New York City Might've Gotten A Bit Too Slash-Happy When Cutting Calories From School Lunches

In its haste to combat a rising childhood obesity epidemic, New York City went gangbusters on its school lunch menus, slashing calories left and right by replacing items like french fries with baked potato strips and offering nonfat chocolate milk, among other things. But it turns out they went a little too far to the other side, resulting in lunches that don’t have enough calories to meet federal nutrition requirements. Whoops.

The problem arose because Mayor Bloomberg’s administration kinda sorta ignored a set of United States Department of Agriculture requirements from 1994 without deigning to ask the agency for permission first, reports the New York Times. The city serves 860,000 school lunches per day, and in its quest to make sure those meals were nutritious, it apparently cut calories to below the minimum required by the USDA.

The city’s health department notes that cutting calories wasn’t the goal, but just a “secondary response” as it was reconfiguring school lunches to be healthier.

“Our mentality is to feed food to children, not nutrients to astronauts,” said the chief executive for school support services for the New York City Education Department.

But the city also claims that it’s totally in line with new federal guidelines set to go into effect this school year. Those requirements reduce the minimum calorie count by more than 200 calories in certain grades, and also outline what the maximum calories in a meal can be. Health officials are admitting, however, that older kids need more calories than they’re currently getting.

That’s all going to change, as the Education Department’s chefs have hit the test kitchen to retool menus and ensure that they’re all on the nutritional up and up, including putting enough (healthy) calories in to sustain students.

Critics like the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger sees the city’s calorie-cutting as part of a larger plan to play politics, at the risk of underfeeding children.

“It is based on politics and personal whims, not nutrition science,” he said. “It is based on the city’s absurd belief that hunger no longer exists among children, despite federal data that proves that one in four New York City children live in food-insecure homes. The city’s one and only response to child hunger is taking food away from kids.”

The old rules required most meals to contain 785 calories at lunch, while the new ones have a 550-calorie minimum through fifth grade, 600 for middle school and 750 for high schoolers. Each have a maximum amount of 100 calories more than their minimums.

Lunch Trays Got Too Lean in City’s Fight Against Fat [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

    My driving instructor had a word for this: Over-correcting.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    The critic hear is spouting out bullshit. Taking calories is not the same as taking food. Changing what you give them to something healthier will have the simultaneous effect of reducing overall calories.

    Need more calories? Just provide more of the healthy food.

    • consumerd says:

      I agree, you can technically cut calories, but eat a ton of food. My sister learned that living in new york learning to cook thai food. She stated she ate a ton of food. Calorie counting time, she didn’t gain squat.

  3. Olivia Neutron-Bomb says:

    ‘So my question is: How long before “Confinement Loaf” appears in United States High Schools?’

    – Frank Zappa

  4. Abradax says:

    The USDA has a 2000 calorie daily limit, but their minimum calorie standards for a high school lunch are 750?

    Shouldn’t it be about 660 or 1/3 of 2000 calories?

    • VintageLydia says:

      Teenagers need more calories than adults and lunch should actually be a bigger meal than dinner.

    • dschmidt1007 says:

      As a 30 year old, 5’7″ female, I’m “supposed to eat” between 1350 and 1630 calories per day. The 2000 calorie/day model is outdated and based on an adult male, not a child. A child half my size should not be eating nearly 700 calories in a single meal!

      • benminer says:

        WebMD says otherwise. Unlike a child, you aren’t literally growing the size of your body and organs every day so proportionally adults need less calories.

        • VintageLydia says:

          Precisely. Kids need way way more food than one would expect. It just needs to be good food, not the high sugar, nutritionally deficient junk a lot of kids get. My school lunches were horrendous, nutrition-wise, and almost never filling. That seems to be the case across the country, even in a lot of private schools. But all everyone wants to look at is calories which is the total wrong way to look at nutrition.

          /soap box

      • Velvet Jones says:

        Damn, please tell me you don’t have kids, as you’re probably starving them. Children need MORE calories than adults, not less. This is true of virtually any species. Buy a kitten or a puppy, they eat twice as much as a full grown cat or a dog. Their bodies are growing, they need extra energy. Once you are full grown you only need to maintain what you have.

        • Kuchen says:

          Yeah, my 3-year-old can totally out-eat me. She ate an entire cantaloupe as a side dish at lunch a few weeks ago. She has also grown 4 inches in the last year. I haven’t grown any.

          • VintageLydia says:

            I’m not looking forward to my son’s teenager years. I remember my mom trying to keep my brother fed. We couldn’t keep food in the house at all. I had to jealously guard all my snacks and hide them in my room so I could have a damn granola bar after school every now and again.

            • Charles Edward Winthrop III, Esquire, Investigator of the Unknown Music says:

              Remind me at the convention, I have granola bars in the Lady!

          • webweazel says:

            Agreed. My 7 year old ate a total of 6 scrambled eggs with cheese one day, cooked 2 at a time. Kept asking for more. He’s real skinny, too, but he comes up almost to my shoulder. And I’m not short. Growth spurts!

      • Not Given says:

        A moderately active 3 year old needs 1700 calories/day

  5. dush says:

    If there are not enough calories you are starving the children. Why does Bloomberg like starving children?

    • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

      Most of the kids I’ve seen don’t look like they’ve missed too many meals.

    • XianZomby says:

      They only starve the physically fit children, to benefit the fat children. It’s part of the same program that ensures physically fit, strong kids are no longer allowed to play basketball in gym class, because the fat, weak kids can’t move fast enough and get winded easily. So instead they all play bowling with the plastic ball and pins.

      It’s important that government mandate that everybody stop making personal choices to do what’s right for them and instead do what’s right for the lowest common denominator. That way, nobody feels left out.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        OK so people may think I’m off my rocker on this one (although, for the record, my office chair does rock quite nicely) – I vaguely recall reading a story/book/essay once where the protaganist was a kid in high school who was exceptionally gifted, both physically and mentally. But since society had progressed to the point where the lowest-common-denominator was the most important person, this kid had to live his life in shackles so he couldn’t move faster than the fat, unskilled kids in sports, and take drugs to cloud his mind so that the dumb, illiterate kids could compete scholasitcally with him. He had to wear eyesight-distorting glasses since his vision was better than 20/20. And earplugs since his hearing was too good. So on and so forth.

        …anyone have any idea what I’m talking about – or, to the point, know what book/essay/whatever that was so I can go look it up again?

        • Coelacanth says:

          Sounds like some drivel that Ayn Rand would write – although it’s probably not her.

          • Velvet Jones says:

            I’m sure you would prefer something written by Karl Marx. I’ve noticed that people that speak of Ayn Rand with an almost venomous hatred are usually the lazy losers types that she use to rail against in her writing.

            • Coelacanth says:

              Probably not. I’m relatively moderate in my social and political leanings.

              Some of her ideas were intriguing, except for the fact that highly intelligent and motivated individuals can run into a series of unfortunate situations that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage through little fault of their own.

              There’s a great deal of merit and virtue self-reliance; however, she took the victimization of a supposed elite class much too far.

              • Velvet Jones says:

                OK, I’ll give you a +1 on your rebuttal. I don’t actually think Rand was a genius, she only pointed out what we already know about human nature, or nature in general. People are lazy, and when you take away either the motivation or opportunity to succeed then most people will become complacent. There are always circumstances that are out of ones control, but sometime no amount of assistance can help certain people either.

                I suggest you read Rand again, or perhaps the first time. She did not worship the elite, at least as far as wealth. In fact, she considered certain members of the elite to be the laziest of all.

            • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

              *me hugs velvet jones*

              There there deary, they can’t hurt you now.

        • tralfaz says:

          Harrison Bergeron.

        • Starrion says:

          “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

          Here is a short commentary

        • Kate Blue says:

          Yeah, that was Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

        • WarriorWife says:

          The title of the story is “Harrison Bergeron” and it’s a short by Vonnegut. One of my all-time faves.

        • F1ll3rbunny says:

          Kurt Vonnegut. Tralfaz got the title of it.

        • NurseTimLPN says:

          I too read that short story when I was in 6th grade, but I don’t remember the author or the name of the story. But it is exactly how you described it, and I see more and more of it in society everyday.

        • Kisses4Katie says:

          Yes! This was a short story. It was included with a copy of Animal Farm, the Birds, and a few other stories I believe. At least that’s where I read it. It was very Orwellian, and similar to 1984 (lol redundant I know) but it was about an older couple who’s son was jailed for being more gifted. The older man himself wore a receptor in his ear that would go off every few seconds so that if he had a bright thought, it would die away. The son eventually escaped and was killed, only for the couple to forget what even happened.

        • DrRonIsIn says:

          Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.

        • beappleby says:

          This is probably an adaptation of the story everyone already mentioned, but my high school did a one-act play called “The Handicapper General” which had the same plot.

      • Kate Blue says:

        I’ve not heard of this program about not playing basketball, but what’s the point of playing a game with everyone that only a few enjoy? I spent many a year in Phys Ed not getting any work out at all because only the athletic kids could play hard enough to be competitive – the rest of us would get pushed out and have to stand on the sidelines and watch. Is that your goal – that the fat kids don’t get any workout at all so the athletic kids kids can have some fun?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The calorie count provided is not starving anyone. Below 1200/day you body goes into starvation mode, which is averaging 400/meal. These meals are above that.

      • StarKillerX says:

        But remember we’re constantly told that children aren’t fed at home, which is why we need to also provide breakfast so they at least get two meals a day. lol!

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Not sure exactly your point. Schools do often provide breakfast, and often have programs specifically for low-income households.

          If there was a joke or a jab at current society, I didn’t see it.

          • VintageLydia says:

            It’s because SOCIALISM, I’m sure. I have more to say but I’ve soap boxed all up and down this post and I’m sure people are tired of it :P

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          Yes, lol, it’s such bs that we’re fed, about children going hungry! Lol! Every kid gets two healthy meals at home! lol!!

  6. dolemite says:

    750 calories in high school? Lol, I was rail-thin and probably ate 2x that for every meal.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I assume you make your comment because all the children of New York are clones of you, right?

  7. Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

    It’s obvious. We need more federal oversight of State’s rights.

  8. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Just add another fork full of arugula and a couple more lobster cubes. Problem solved.

  9. dicobalt says:

    Having too few calories is exactly how you loose weight…

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I enjoyed the mental picture of “loosing” weight. I imagined something along the lines of grabbing fat off your belly and placing it in a trebuchet.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        This from the guy who said above: “The critic hear is spouting out bullshit.”

  10. longfeltwant says:

    “in its quest to make sure those meals were nutritious, it apparently cut calories to below the minimum ”

    So, just to be clear, nutrition is unrelated to caloric content.

  11. Robert Nagel says:

    Typical government program. One size fits all because that’s the easiest way to figure it. Does a big kid not need more food than a small kid. I’m not talking fat I’m talking big, as in one of the foot ball players. if you give him enough then you are over feeding the smaller kids. This doesn’t make sense. I’ll bet Bloomberg didn’t allow his employees to use this kind of thinking with his company.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      That’s always the way it’s been anyway – you go to the cafeteria and you get the same exact meal everyone else gets. Not exactly a new concept that Bloomberg created…

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      How would a school factor in all these things that change what your caloric intake should be?

      Realistically, only a doctor can make a determination if you are getting enough calories.

      • George4478 says:

        How would a school do that? Well, according to this article they just decide that 750 is the right number.

        If only a doctor can make an accurate determination of a person’s caloric needs, why are you so supportive of the school’s determination? Did they have each child examined individually by a doctor to determine if they are getting enough/too many calories?

    • Kate Blue says:

      Um, that’s not free market enough – you get tossed from the conservative party. We gotta make it cheap cheap cheap you hear? We all get taxed enough without catering to stupid kids of other people!

  12. JohnDeere says:

    my local high school baked the french fries 1 day and had to change back to frying them b/c no one ate them and they all got thrown away. im not supposed to tell anyone so dont say anything ok.

  13. Outrun1986 says:

    I think these messages are becoming a bit too much.

    Many teenage girls I know are now over-exercising, because they are being pushed to exercise by their teachers and peers. The message is out there, but it isn’t intended for those who are already physically fit and in shape. In some cases, I don’t think the messages are reaching the right people. I think in some cases they shouldn’t push these children to exercise too much as its bad. A few girls I know and some of their parents have had injuries from over-exercising, yes it is partially their fault to realize their bodies limits, but in an age where most magazine photos are photoshopped… its very easy to over do it especially when you are hearing constant messages about exercising.

    Its also not good to under-eat, children and especially teens need nutrients and a certain amount of calories or else bad things start to happen like hair falling out and tooth enamel starts to weaken.

    There is also the fact that kids and teens share food, so you don’t really know what is going into each kid’s stomach (and this is almost impossible to monitor), and most won’t eat the vegetables, so a lot of that will get thrown away regardless. As a person who has plenty of experience in school cafeteria’s I can tell you that sharing happened daily right from kindergarten up until high school for me and sometimes to the extent where our lunch table would pool all our food on the table and everyone took what they liked. I can tell you that even in kindergarten I probably shared and traded food out of my home-packed lunch box at least 3 times a week.

    Most kids brought up on pizza and chicken fingers would rather go hungry than eat a vegetable, so when they get home they can gorge on potato chips and snack foods. Maybe we should just put each kid in their own separate cubicle when they eat their lunch so that they don’t share food and not allow them to leave until the entire plate is eaten!

    • VintageLydia says:

      Yeah, it’s actually a form on anorexia and it’s a type a lot of boys are falling into, as well. The rates of eating disorders in boys and men are increasing at an alarming rate while for women it’s holding steady, IIRC. There is just more awareness and resources for girls, but it’s still bad out there.

      All this constant hype over weight and BMI (which was calculated for grown men, not women and not growing children and teens!) instead of HEALTH is really counter productive, especially for kids and teens. Caloric intake is part of health and weight, but it’s not the be all, end all some people think. 1000 calories of soda will be processed differently than 1000 calories of vegetables and proteins, full stop.

      I really wish people would let go of the “calories in, calories out” mentality because it’s so much more complicated than that depending on your age, sex, physical activity level, medications, and genetics.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Calories in, calories out is absolutely the gospel truth. It’s just your understanding of what that really means that matters.

        • VintageLydia says:

          It simplifies weight TOO much, though. For one, it emphasizes calories only, and not the rest of everything else someone needs to eat. Someone eating 2000 calories of ramen a day will be much less healthy than someone eating 2000 calories of a balanced diet if all other factors remain the same. The general principle works overall, but it’s not the answer for everyone in every situation.

          I’m far more concerned about health rather than weight. Healthy people tend to have lower body weight (though not always, or it can be carried in such a way that doesn’t fit current beauty ideals) but the reverse is not always true.

  14. Barry Bunch O'Krunch says:

    “Food-insecure homes,” one of the dumbest euphemisms I’ve head this week, and it’s only Wednesday.

    • Kate Blue says:

      What’s dumb about it? If you aren’t sure you are getting fed tomorrow, then buddy, it’s seriously important to you.

      • George4478 says:

        Is that what it means? Did they ask the kids “do you think you’ll have a meal tomorrow?” and if they answered no, they are marked as food-insecure?

        I’m always curious about these kinds of phrases and what is the science behind their determination. It reminds of the 90’s “have you ever gone to bed hungry?” question that was used as a determinant for child hunger/poverty rates.

        • Kate Blue says:

          From the wikipedia:

          Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
          Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social[23] and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.[24]
          Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). (USDA)[25]
          The stages of food insecurity range from food secure situations to full-scale famine. “Famine and hunger are both rooted in food insecurity. Food insecurity can be categorized as either chronic or transitory. Chronic food insecurity translates into a high degree of vulnerability to famine and hunger; ensuring food security presupposes elimination of that vulnerability. [Chronic] hunger is not famine. It is similar to undernourishment and is related to poverty, existing mainly in poor countries.”[26]

  15. Razor512 says:

    I work as an elementary school teacher (almost a full teacher, just need to pass a few more observations)

    In the lunch room, I notice probably 75% or so of the food ends up in the trash because it does not taste good. I tried some of it and it is horrible. (sometimes you may get a decent tasting chicken sandwich, but most of the time it is nasty stuff)

    virtually all of the good foods have been restricted due to the laws in NY, if it gets much worst then probably 90+ % of the food will end up in the trash

    • Kate Blue says:

      Maybe your school needs better cooks.

      • VintageLydia says:

        Most schools only provide heat and eat foods :/ The cafeteria ladies almost never cook. They might fry something or stick something in an oven, but everything is already cooked. I think even the salads were prepped by the contract company. They just had to divy them up in the containers. It’s just cheaper to do it that way than hire people to actually cook real food for kids. Almost all the food at our school was fried and SO loaded with carbs which is the opposite of what you need to sit and concentrate in class. Lots of kids carb crashing by the last bell.

        • Razor512 says:

          Yep everything is precooked. Whats worst is they charge nearly $5 for a school lunch if you are a faculty member. Other than the chicken sandwiches which are passable, I would not feed most of the other food even to my dog.

          In most US districts, school lunches are done in a fashion where they go with the lowest bidder who can meet or exceed the minimum USDA standards.

          PS dog food and prison food are also required to meet the minimum USDA standards. Most food sold in stores meet or exceed the highest USDA standards.

  16. Not Given says:

    You wonder why your kids are starving when they get home from school.