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Chester School: Lunch Guidelines Hurt Students

September 9, 2012, 10:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Chester School: Lunch Guidelines Hurt Students
CHESTER, SD -

As school districts across the country serve up healthier lunches, the Chester Area School District drags its feet. Administrators say many of the new federal guidelines would hurt the students more than they'd help.

It's not an accident that little has changed in the Chester Area School lunchroom since federal guidelines went into effect.

"Look at the meal itself. It is appetizing," Elementary Principal Faith Stratton said. "Why wouldn't you want to eat it?" It's appetizing, looks good, lots of color to it."

Stratton is proud of the food served up to the district's 350 students. She says it's nutritious and healthy, even though it doesn't follow all the new guidelines.

"Our portion sizes have not changed. We're still going according to the old guidelines and it is just because this is what our kids need to eat," Stratton said.

The guidelines aim to provide healthier food and curb the nation's obesity epidemic.

This year, schools across the country are asked to slim down menus with smaller portions of meat and starches, while cutting calories and sodium.

"We've picked out some of the things that make sense and have implemented those. The things that really don't make sense or don't work for us, we've just left alone," Chester Area School District Superintendent Mark Greguson said.

For years, the district has provided whole-wheat options for students and offered more fruits and vegetables.

While the administration sees most of that kind of food wind up in the trash, they continue to implement the new guidelines.

Cooks also altered recipes to reduce the amount of sodium, but the district draws the line at limiting calories to 650 for children and 850 calories for teens.

"To me, there is no rhyme or reason and we don't follow that very close," Greguson.

With 90 percent of Chester high school students involved in athletics, Greguson says it's important they continue to get the food they need.

The district says they have reason to be stubborn over the new federal guidelines, because they unsuccessfully implemented many of them in 2009.

After complaints of starving children from parents, the food portions increased.

"I feel like I am getting a lot fuller because when I'm in practice, I am not always starving all the time. I am feeling like I am a lot fuller during the day," Kenzie Alverson said, who plays volleyball, basketball and runs track. "I am more active. I'm awake, not falling asleep in class. It does help if you get fuller and have more calories in something."

"I am a bigger man so there could always be more," 11th grader John Nelson said. "But the smaller kids, they're getting fed."

And while Chester's administration argues they want their students to be as healthy as possible, they say targeting the lunchroom isn't the best way to reduce childhood obesity.

"What we do here at school may impact a little bit, but when they're home, what are they eating," Greguson said.

Administrators hope changes will come to the guidelines before they are fully implemented in 2014. In the meantime, they will continue to adhere to their own student lunch standards.

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