Iowans think schools are underfeeding their children


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Lunch trays in Iowa’s schools transformed after President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law in 2010, and a new study released through the University of Iowa Public Policy Center reflects parents’ perceptions of those changes.

The study showed just over two-thirds of Iowa parents believe their child is not getting enough to eat in school meals, but the researcher leading the study, Natoshia Askelson, said the problem has more to do with outreach than with portion sizes.

“I’m not sure that changes need to be made to the policy as much as the policy needs to be explained to people,” she said.

The poll, which did not employ random sampling, asked Iowa parents to report the experiences of their oldest child. Parents were also encouraged to disseminate it to other parents.

Fully aware that the sampling method used garners more responses from people who care about the issue, Askelson said she was surprised by how engaged parents were.

Cindy Smith, a secretary at the Iowa City School District’s food and nutrition department, said she was not in the least bit surprised to learn that parents are engaged with school lunches.

The lunch program now serves more fruits and vegetables in greater variety, and there is a limit on how many calories a single lunch can contain, whereas there were just minimum calorie counts before the law, she said.

One parent of three School District students, Mary Murphy, said the limit concerns her because kids have different dietary needs, and some athletes require more calories.

“If you’re well-off, you can purchase à la carte items. However, if you’re on free and reduced lunch and don’t have the income support from home, it may be difficult to purchase food to support your activity levels,” she said, adding that she supports healthy choices.

West High Assistant Principal Molly Abraham said many children eat school breakfasts and lunches, and those may be the primary source of food for some.

“They’ve changed, but there’s still quite a bit of food, too … if they take everything … and if they eat everything … it’s good,” she said. She doesn’t think school-lunch programs contribute to teen obesity.

Abraham also said she sees some of the healthy items going into the trash, and the price of school lunch is going up this year — a problem she attributes to rising food prices.

Students are required to take at least three items when they get a hot lunch, and at least one of those items must be fruit, Smith said.

“You can put it on a plate; you can’t make them eat it,” she said.

Hy-Vee dietitian Kym Wroble said the 2010 law should result in a healthier youth for America.

“They are going to get used to those vegetables,” she said.

Parent Teacher Association President Brianna Wills agreed.

“If there is more waste, in my opinion, setting the expectation [of eating healthy food] is more important,” she said.

City High Principal and school-lunch connoisseur John Bacon said he now feels like he’s eating at a health club.

“It was extraordinary, I think, what they did in terms of the increase in quality and aesthetic appearance of the food and everything,” he said.

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