High school students aren’t getting enough to eat at lunch in the Manhattan. Half of the kids in the Manhattan School District are packing a lunch rather chancing the portions offered in the hot lunch line, Superintendent of Manhattan School Jim Notaro said.
The drop, from about 70 percent of high school students eating hot lunch in Manhattan in years past, means Notaro will have to cut back kitchen employees’ hours if more kids can’t be lured back to the lunch line.
“We’re looking at reducing the total number of labor hours,” Notaro said. “We just need to reduce the total number of labor hours. We’re doing an overhead cost analysis.”
A part-time kitchen helper might get their hours cut from three and a half per day to two. Notaro said he can’t justify keeping everyone on with the number of meals being served.
It’s not the kitchen staff choosing to serve smaller servings. They are forced to comply with new federal mandates know as the New Meal Pattern based off U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendation for school meals.
The federal guidelines dictate that portions sizes must shrink for protein while schools can offer more fruits and vegetables. In coming years, school cooks must also monitor the amount of sodium and calories in each meal.
For high schoolers, the reduced protein leaves them hungry, especially kids in sports. Before the overhaul, about 130 of the 190 Manhattan high school students took hot lunch. Now only about half of the students take the school lunch, maybe a few more on pizza or burger day.
With a new serving line and other kitchen upgrades and a staff hired to feed more kids, Notaro, must make some cuts.
“We just aren’t serving enough meals to break even,” Notaro told the school board last week. “Unless our meal count goes up, we’re going to have to make some tough, tough decisions.”
First year kitchen boss Rhiannon Reardon got thrown into a tricky situation. She must balance each meal with starchy vegetables, green, orange and red vegetables, as well as beans and peas. She can’t give high school students more than 10 ounces of meat. And then she has to sell the meal to kids. Reardon said kids are not excited
Sometimes creatively moving food around the tray to give the illusion of a filling meal helps. Sometimes Reardon just has to look the other way as she hands a meager lunch tray.
High School Principal Robert Moore is trying to engage the students through a survey to find out what it takes to get kids back to the lunch line.
The survey asks kids how often they eat hot lunch, what factors- cost, quality, quantity- influence their decision about packing a unch or opting for the school-made meal.
Students in the Family and Consumer Sciences class at MHS wrote out their version of the pros and cons of the new meal plan on large posters adorning their classroom.
Some groups said that although the lunch overhaul maybe be healthier, students wind up hungrier and eat more at home, undoing the intent of the New Meal Pattern. Others students thought the healthier lunches would affect kids in states with a higher obesity rates.
Other students wrote that high school students shouldn’t be forced to eat the same amount as younger kids. They also mentioned that sedentary students don’t need to consume as much as their active counterparts.