Schools Affected by the Fast Food Wars

Still battle-scarred from the “chocolate milk wars,” Joanne Styer,Schools Affected by the Fast Food Wars Articles director of Montgomery County’s school lunch program, is easing into whole-wheat bread. School cafeterias now serve grilled cheese sandwiches with one slice of whole-wheat and one slice of white bread for those interested in special search search nutrition and health go in their way.

To Styer, half a whole-wheat sandwich is better than no whole-wheat at all. She hopes students and their parents accept the grainier, more nutritious bread. Yet, several years ago, when she tried to oust chocolate milk in favor of the plain variety, she says her phone “rang off the hook” with calls from parents who complained their children would not drink milk without cocoa sweeteners.

“Food is emotional and feeding children is very emotional,” said Styer, seated in her Rockville office. On her desk is a package of whole-wheat hamburger buns she plans to introduce into the cafeterias to special search search nutrition and health go facts.

Styer has just launched a campaign to cut down on salt, sugar and fat in cafeteria meals as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Medical Association. That means more fruit and less cake, more poultry and less beef on lunch trays.

About 80 percent of Montgomery County’s 102,000 students buy their lunch in school cafeterias, according to Styer. Of those, about 65 percent purchase the lunch special, consisting of two ounces of protein, enriched or whole bread, three-quarters of a cup of fruit or vegetable, milk and dessert. The remainder buy a la carte items.

Of the $10.8 million school lunch budget, 64 percent comes from sales to children. The federal government subsidizes 28.7 percent and about 7 percent comes from local government sources. Children pay from 65 to 95 cents for a meal that costs the school from $1.25 to $1.50. Approximately 8,000 students receive free lunches or pay only 5 to 10 cents for them under a subsidized program.

“Actually we’ve been working at improvements for some time,” Styer says, “But we’re going gradually. We still have some youngsters used only to white bread, soda and Twinkies.”

Four years ago, when U.S. Department of Agriculture studies on the cholesteral-clogged U.S. diet coincided with demands from a group of nutrition-conscious Montgomery County parents for lean, preservative-free, high-fiber lunches, Styer started carving starchy gravies and gooey desserts from the lunch menus.

Hamburgers and lasagne now contain beef with a maximum of 20 percent fat. Milk, chocolate or white, is low-fat.

“We encountered a lot of resistance on the low-fat milk,” Styer recalls. “Parents accused us of serving ‘chalk milk’ to save money. They didn’t understand the difference between lowfat and skim milk.”