Nutrition, the possibility of commercial Cafeterias in American schools.
Pizza, tacos and onion rings – this is another balanced lunch for many school cafeterias around the country. If given a choice, most kids don’t choose broccoli. Financial constraints have prevented many school districts from eliminating more popular – but more selective.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is NPR morning edition. I’m Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I’m Steve Inskeep.
Many high school or high school parents have noticed that their children’s canteen operates like a food court.
(sound of cafeteria noise)
Unidentified girl # 1: like pizza hut pizza. It’s really good.
Unidentified boy # 1: chicken fillet.
Unidentified girl # 2: pizza hut pizza.
Unidentified boy # 1: yes, pizza hut, tacos.
INSKEEP: the lunch room at many schools is a business that is the subject of today’s health news. NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports that customers do not make many nutritional purchases.
ALLISON AUBREY reports:
Peggy lee has been running the school’s lunch program, remembering that the women’s hair salon and stockings didn’t ask what you wanted to eat. They just put it on your tray. That’s what she looked like as a child.
Miss li (school lunch administrator) : I remember sitting in a primary school a cafeteria, I don’t want my peas, I put them in my milk box – because the teacher don’t want to hide them, let me go until I ate all the peas. And I don’t want my peas.
AUBREY: a lot has changed. In many places, children decide what to eat, and many canteens are like shops. Take, for example, the Great Bridge Middle school in Chesapeake, va., one of the schools under Peggy Lee.
(sound of cafeteria noise)
Unidentified boy # 3: two chicken fillets, French fries, some French fries, milk, chocolate milk and grape juice, 100% vitamin C.
Unidentified boy # 4: potato wedges and spaghetti and fruit cocktails and chocolate milk.
AUBREY: why didn’t I see the fruits and vegetables?
Unidentified boy # 5: because I like, like pears, things like that, you know, but I don’t like to have…
Unidentified boy # 6: I know. I…
Unidentified boy # 5:… The fruit is here. It looks very annoying
Unidentified boy # 6: their fruit is rotten.
Unidentified boy # 5: yes, it’s rotten.
Unidentified boy # 6: fruit is old. I mean, we pay for this kind of food.
Unidentified boy # 5: I know. We deserve the best.
AUBREY: in fact, the fruit on the service line is not rotting away. All this seems to be fine. When seventh-grade students were holding, student Chris Gregory noticed a teacher opening a packet of Twinkies through the table, with a crack in his mouth.
Chris Gregory (seventh grade) : I mean, what’s going on here? I mean, he’s not healthy either. He’s not – he doesn’t have a salad. So why do we eat healthy? We should look to our teachers, but they eat like HoHo and Twinkies. What should we do?
AUBREY: for Peggy Lee, all of this provides a good insight into teenage thinking.
Ms. Li: they have a little freedom. They have more and more power, they feel that they have their own power in their own life, and they play a role. You know, sometimes they don’t make the best choices. But you know what? They don’t make the best choices about a lot of things.
AUBREY: if so many children make such bad choices, why not go back to the past, as Peggy Lee remembers, you have to stay on the table until you eat your peas? Maybe the cafe provides only one healthy, comprehensive meal every day. Either accept it or leave it.
Ms. Li: we can put all the food on the plate. We can make this dish look very attractive and nutritious. If they don’t need it, they won’t eat it. You tell me how to get those sixth-graders there to eat green beets. Did you see some kids sitting there today? No one asked them to eat.
AUBREY: when Bruce lee was hired to run a catering service at Chesapeake school, one of her first tasks was to start bringing in more income. The federal government finances low-income students and some foods. Virginia has money, too, but lee says it’s not enough to open up its cafeteria.
Ms li: the school department did not allocate funds through the general budget. It’s like running a small business in education.
AUBREY: “to be successful in the food industry,” she said, “you can’t provide customers with things they don’t like… ”
Ms. Li: kids are brand oriented. They know pizza hut is a good product, so we use a lot of brands. In my menu, you’ll see tyson chicken, shrimp with seaweed.
AUBREY:… There are many other things that children are willing to pay for, such as baked potato chips and oversized cookies.
Ms. Li: we don’t think there’s good food, bad food. Every food we offer on the menu is nutritious and even fries. There’s nothing wrong with French fries. If you eat every day, and this is what you eat, you are wrong. So we want to try to provide all kinds of things.
AUBREY: the school offers low-fat potato wedges twice a week, not fries. Fruits and vegetables are sold daily, along with salads and low-fat milk. The programs could at least help lee comply with federal guidelines on nutrition, but it is clear that many children are not making healthy choices.
Congressman lee: the habits they form are not something we do or do not do on school meals. This is the result of what happened before the age of five or six.
O ‘brien: as more and more countries begin to tackle the obesity problem in older children, lawmakers have seized on the idea of school nutrition laws. At least 18 states are considering legislation. Someone called for a soda machine. Connecticut last week passed a ban on junk food in schools, and in Kentucky, the new law limits pizza hut to one day a week. But the city of buffalo is taking a different approach.
Unidentified radio announcer: if it’s new, you first hear it here 93.7 WBLK, K…
O ‘bray: with the support of a popular radio station in buffalo, the town’s business leaders are putting their money behind an ambitious education experiment.
The magician (WBLK) : remind you, if you’re a power eater, of course, we want you to listen, and this week, you’re a power eater, you never know. You may be a guest host. You might even win something.
AUBREY: WBLK’s afternoon host magician is a partner in the experiment.
Amazing person: remember, fruits and vegetables rule. Less than five times a day is not cool.
Aubrey: at buffalo 45, the spell sank quickly.
Unidentified student :(consistent) the rules of fruit and vegetables. Less than five times a day is not cold.
AUBREY: in the lunchroom, the power eater program is basically a game. Children who eat more fruits and vegetables every day are eligible for the prize this weekend. Kathy lubeck helped keep the count.
(sound of cafeteria noise)
Ms. KATHY LUBECK (teacher) : ok. Wait a minute, honey. He didn’t eat any fruit, which means…
Unidentified person # 1: okay.
Ms. Lubeck: that means he’s not marked.
Unidentified man: yes.
Ms. Lubeck: but both of these vegetables are fine.
AUBREY: I hope the kids will learn to make better choices.
Ms. Lubeck: the whole idea is that nobody is standing in their shoes, saying, “you have to eat that broccoli, otherwise.” You took it and you tried it even though maybe you picked it up, that’s enough. This is exposure. Some of them have never seen anything like it.
AUBREY: they certainly never took nutrition education as part of the course. With so many school days focused on preparing students for standardized math and reading tests, nutrition has been eliminated. This is a national trend, but not in buffalo’s fourth-grade classrooms. Teacher Denise Vasser said it was a question of teaching children what to do.
Ms. DENISE VASSER (teacher) : why is it important to eat healthy food, Christian?
Christian (fourth grade) : because if you eat fat and greasy food, you may be overweight.
Ms. VASSER: yes. Because adults and children are obese – so we should eat lean meat, lots of fruits and vegetables. Who else?
Unidentified boy # 7: or can lead to diabetes.
Ms. VASSER: yes. That’s right. It can lead to diabetes. Very good.
AUBREY: it’s not clear if the plan will be paid off, but buffalo’s lunchroom is different from most people’s. At least for now, it’s not a business, it’s a classroom. In finance, business leaders have to invest in nutrition programs. Mike Cropp is the chief executive of Independent Health, a big insurer. The idea, he says, is to prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes from early education.
Mr. MIKE CROPP (independent house) : one of the things we’re excited about is: how does this change the level of children’s consciousness in school? Changing habits and changing behavior is difficult, but introducing new habits and new options is much easier than stopping old habits.
AUBREY: and the consensus is that you have to do this when you’re young, so when they grow up to be customers, they make better choices.
Allison Aubrey, NPR news.
Sorcerer: which school do you go to?
Unidentified boy # 8:82.
Amazing person: it’s cool to be a power eater, right?
Unidentified boy # 8: yes.
Magician: what’s your station?
Unidentified boy # 8: BLK.
INSKEEP: this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.