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October 14. 2012 11:24PM

Manchester school board member wonders: Are healthy lunches backfiring in city schools?

MANCHESTER — A member of the Board of School Committee said serving healthier meals at lunch is driving students to eat more junk food just to fill up.

New federal regulations for school lunches have taken effect, requiring a mix of health foods and limiting calories and salt.

But School Board member John Avard said he has been hearing from students who opt for snack foods rather than hot lunch because the school's offerings leave them hungry.

“Some won't get hot lunch, because it won't fill them up,” Avard said. “Others are getting it and having to supplement it with chips to fill them up.”

After an extensive rule-making process, new standards took effect for school lunch and breakfast programs. The rules must be followed by communities that accept help from the Department of Agriculture.

“Part of the mandate is that students have three components on their tray to leave the lunch line,” Avard said. “A lot have to grab an apple or fruit that's available that day. On the way out the door, the apple goes into the trash can.”

Avard said this means food that could have value to someone else is wasted.

“We're throwing away apples and oranges and other wholesome food that could be going to someone who needs it,” Avard said. “We can't eliminate it but we can change what they do with it on the way out — maybe have share-tables or a collection box that goes to (a charitable) organization.”

With 25 minutes for 100 or more students to be served, there apparently isn't always time to sit and eat an apple, he said. Avard notes that school rules generally prohibit taking food from the cafeteria.

He said he is trying to get a conversation started about minor changes that could reduce food waste. He said he's done some field work, sitting through lunch in a middle school and high school cafeteria.

“I thought the quality of the food was good; they are making very edible food,” he said. “It's more the regulations that we can't change.”

wsmith@unionleader.com

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