Brookline Schools Allowing Second Servings
By Steph Schaffer
Boston University News Service
BROOKLINE – In response to complaints about this year’s small lunch portions, Brookline Public School students can now receive free seconds at lunch — if they eat their entire first serving.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new guidelines this school year that include a grade-based calorie maximum for meals and establish serving sizes for each category in the food pyramid.
The caloric intakes are divided into three categories: 550-650 calories per-lunch for elementary school students, 600-700 calories for middle school students, and 750-850 calories for high schoolers, according to a USDA chart.
Fruit and vegetable serving sizes doubled, and milk must be unflavored fat-free or 1 percent, the chart advised.
While whole grains used to be encouraged, at least half of the grains now served to students must be whole grain. Beginning in July 2014, the USDA will mandate that all grains be whole grain.
“I think the guidelines are overdue and have had a positive impact on the health of the lunches we serve, and on the lunches served across the country,” said Alden Cadwell, a former advisor on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and Brookline’s new Food Services Director.
However, Paulette Paula, kitchen manager at the Edward Devotion School, disagrees with Cadwell.
“The new guidelines are a bit too much,” Paula said. “There are children who need some healthy changes and some that do not. I do not think there will be a significant impact.”
Paula acknowledged that the school does not have much choice in the matter. If the Devotion School does not follow the guidelines, they we will not be part of the National School Food Lunch Program. In that case, children who currently receive free or reduced lunches would have to pay, she said.
Parent concern also grew in the beginning of the school year, when children came home complaining about how small this year’s lunch portions were compared to last years.
One Brookline parent, Valerie Emmerich, was so taken aback by her child’s anger upon not receiving as much macaroni and cheese at lunch as she used to, that she decided to voice her concern in a letter.
“[My daughter] demonstrated, using pasta that we’d just cooked, the difference between what she would have been served last year (a good-sized but by no means overly generous portion) and what she’d been served that day (a little less than half a cup),” Emmerich wrote.
She said that the following day when she heard the same story from other parents, she knew her child wasn’t just particularly hungry.
“I have no quarrel with the reasons for the changes: childhood obesity is a major problem in this country, and as far as healthy eating habits go, every kid I know could use some help in that department,” Emmerich wrote. “But please, can the cafeteria powers that be just give these kids a little more mac and cheese?”
“Everyone complains, even though meals are the same as last year,” Paula said in response to Emmerich’s letter and fellow parents’ concerns. “The food is the same, healthy, fresh. There is no difference, say, in the size of the b. good burger.”
To resolve the portion-size issue, Brookline school administrators decided to allow students to get free seconds, so long as they finish all of the food on their first tray.
Cadwell sent a letter to students’ parents to notify them of the change.
“I haven’t heard anything since I sent out the letter except positive feedback,” Cadwell said. “Things are starting to settle down and the kids are growing accustomed.”
In addition to allowing second helpings, Cadwell has taken extra steps to ensure that recipes are kid-friendly, nutritious and delicious.
He continues to think up creative recipes to solve a long-term problem with innovative solutions. The problem: getting kids to eat their vegetables.
A recipe contest last month also encouraged community members to become involved in creating healthy meals. Winning recipes will end up on the schools’ lunch menus throughout the school year.
Some of the students’ current favorites include pizza, pulled pork, b. good burgers, and bean and cheese burritos, which are a recent addition to the menu, Cadwell and Paula said.
“We look forward to putting apple crisp, sweet potato pudding, and kale chips on the menu in the coming months,” Cadwell said.