Jul 28, 2014
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Lunch Is Served, Greenwich Students Speak Out

Short on time, and hungry, kids are looking for better food. And so are their parents.

Lunch Is Served, Greenwich Students Speak Out

 

As if they had a premonition of Hurricane Sandy's impact on basic necessities, Greenwich students recently spoke out about two topics that many care about— food and technological connectivity.

This past week, residents across town cared about access to both, but when the students addressed the Board of Education two weeks ago at Eastern Middle School, they were focused on quality. (Look for an upcoming story on the students' technology concerns on Patch.)

What's For Lunch?

Central Middle School 8th-graders Ethan Noveck and Robby Blank are literally fed up with school lunch. 

Noveck was convinced to "speak out" about what he witnesses in the cafeteria. "During lunch at CMS, I've seen students throw away the salads and fruits automatically given to us," Noveck said. "Commonly, students also decide to purchase snacks, instead of lunch entrees, due to the lack of time they have to eat and because they don't find the school lunch food appetizing."

"As I continued to see students purchase only snacks for lunch and discard the fruit given to them, I knew that the current school lunch food did not suffice for the students and inferred that the lunch program was not benefiting from the lack of entrees purchased at lunch. I thought I should speak out about what I've seen every day at Central Middle School's cafeteria," Noveck said.

They Did Their Homework

The 8th grader didn't just decide to speak, but invested time in identifying the issue. "I researched the Greenwich Public School's lunch program and found, in the most recent monitoring report, that the lunch program's fund balance is an unaudited negative $139,919. In the same paragraph, the monitoring report also explained that they are creating incentives to increase participation in the lunch program."

It was after his research that Noveck said the idea of speaking out was suggested to him. "After discovering these facts, my mom mentioned that I could speak at the next Board of Education meeting. I decided to write a speech and invited my friend, Robby, to speak with me."

An Apple A Day...Adds Up

When the students spoke to the Board, they explained that fruit has automatically been added to each lunch purchased with the intent of "ensuring that students consume at least one serving of fruit daily." Noveck revealed that the pieces of fruit, at about $0.50 - $1.00 each, "are thrown away by nearly every student who receives one," which adds up to wasted funds.

Are students not eating the fruit because they don't like it? Guess again.

Noveck revealed the answer:

"Imagine this evening, you are hungry and you have 5 minutes to eat something before today’s meeting. You have the choice between unpeeled oranges, which will cover your face with sticky juice, or a fruit-and-nut whole grain granola bar that’s quick and easy to eat, as well as high in nutrients." The 8th-grader predicted that "the majority of the people in this room are going to pick the organic, whole grain granola bar over the orange. The students of Central Middle School prefer the granola bar in a time crunch situation as well."

Crunched For Time

According the boys, a lack of time also plays a role in students' food choices. Blank explained that students are given "20 minutes" to "stand in line for food, eat and go outside for recess. Given these time constraints, students are looking for the meal that will most effectively curb their appetite in the shortest period of time."

As a result, said Blank, "many students purchase sugar coated or salted pretzels and a bag of Doritos for lunch. Students eat these unhealthy food options because they’re fast and easy to eat."

Noveck's solution: the money spent on fruit should be "re-purposed" and spent on "nutrient rich, easy to eat, organic snack foods." Noveck also called for a "review of our meal choices" and requested that the district begin "selling tasty, healthy food that more students would eat."

The two boys recently conducted at student survey at Central:

  • 22 out of the 71 students in one lunch block bought lunch;
  • about 70% of the students in another block did not purchase lunch;
  • less than a third of the lunchroom purchased lunch from the cafeteria;
  • there are significantly more students bringing their own
    lunch than buying.

Parents Weigh In

Noveck and Blank have expressed what GPS parents have been saying for a long time. Susan Bickham and Alexis Voulgaris are the PTA Council Co-Chairs of the Greenwich PTA Council Wellness Committee and explain that both "parents and students want better food in our schools." Their comittee has been "working with the administration to improve the quality and nutrition of the food served in Greenwich Public Schools."

The women conceded that "although some improvement has been made already, our goal is to move to less processed food and meals that use more whole foods and are cooked from scratch."

Where There Is A Will, Is There A Way?

Of course, just because there is a collective desire, doesn't always translate into easy implementation. "We are sympathetic to the difficulties of working within the parameters of our self-funded school lunch program and appreciate that the administration is trying to meet parent, student and budget requirements, as well as USDA regulations, with the improved food services program, as well as remaining open to new ideas."

The efforts of stakeholders is producing some creative initiatives. "One idea we are working on together, is a pilot program at one of the elementary schools where we would introduce lunches made mostly from scratch three times a week."

While the Co-Chairs reveal that "the details of the pilot are still being finalized, but we expect this to be implemented during the current school year." Their hope is that "participation in the lunch program would go up on the days these pilot meals are served."

The Wellness Committee states that they believe that they can make "changes and meet our goal of serving our kids a more nutritious, delicious and filling lunch."

How Can You Help?

"We will be looking for parent support during this pilot to convince the administration that the new menu items would increase lunch participation." Individuals who would like to be part of this effort, may email the committee at  PTACWellness@gmail.com.

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