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COPPER HILLS — A month into the school year, students across the nation are pushing back against the initiative to put more healthy food on lunch trays and cut back on calories. Even in Utah, kids say they're going hungry and are throwing more food in the garbage.
New government nutrition standards that went into effect his year have set a maximum of 850 calories for each meal served to high school students. Younger kids are offered less. That equates to fewer carbohydrates and more fruits and vegetables. And students must take fruit or they pay more for the meal.
The standards raise the nutrition bar for the first time in more than 15 years. Schools must meet the standards to get federal meal reimbursements.
"We used to have really good french fries, but now they've substituted them for sweet potato fries and like you don't want to eat them because the inside looks like a squished bug," said Brianna Mears, the senior class historian.
The move to get healthy is not sitting well with students at Copper Hills High School.
"The portions have diminished so much that my kids are ready to revolt over food," said Todd Quarnberg, the principal of Copper Hills High School.
The nutrition director for Jordan School District says it's been a challenge to meet the federal guidelines and satisfy students. She also says that younger students seem to be more accepting of the changes.
The portions have diminished so much that my kids are ready to revolt over food.
–Todd Quarnberg, Principal of Copper Hills High School.
"The older students, I believe they really aren't ready," said Jana Cruz, the nutritional director. "They haven't heard it as much and they are at an age too where it is all about choice and as it should be. And that is the challenge for us."
Regardless of whether kids are choosing to throw food away or are turning to the vending machines instead, some educators are worried about the impact the lunch hour is having on classroom time.
"It's not just the hunger," Principal Quarnberg said. "Even when they go back to class, if they are not getting enough to eat we are talking about exhaustion. They're tired. We are not getting enough food out of our school lunches right now to sustain kids even until the end of the day."
"Everyone is going home hungry," Mears, the senior class historian said. "Or a lot of people get like double the size and lunch is two dollars and it's not coming with two dollars worth of food."
The Department of Agriculture said today it's working on creating a snack program to curb students' hunger. It also encourages parents to pack extra food for active students.