Students nationwide are brown-bagging lunches, writing lawmakers, and making YouTube videos about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, complaining its rules leave them, well, hungry.
The 2010 law limits lunches starting this fall to 850 calories for high school students, with tighter restrictions for younger students. Meals include more produce and limit meat.
The law was the biggest item of complaints to U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s office (R-KS) in August, he told School Reform News.
“Parents, administrators, cooks alike, I haven’t found one yet that said, ‘No, let’s keep the regulations, we love it,’” he said.
Students in Wisconsin, Florida, Kansas, and Minnesota are among those protesting. Before HHFKA, the federal government spent approximately $11 billion yearly on its school lunch program. HHFKA added an annual $1.4 billion. Thirty-nine percent of public school students receive the subsidies.
The No Hungry Kids Act, sponsored by Rep. Steven King (R-IA), would repeal HHFKA, prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from capping calories or meat, and prohibit schools from interfering when students bring their own lunches.
“[HHFKA is] a mistake, and most parents that I’ve visited with and the school cooks in particular say it’s a very bad idea,” said Huelskamp, the bill’s cosponsor.
Some students are 100-pound girls and others are football players, and different students need different lunches, notes Linda O’Connor, an English teacher at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas. Students who need more food often raid vending machines, consuming candy and chips, she said.
“It’s been a counterproductive piece of legislation,” O’Connor said. “[Students] weren’t eating half as much junk food last year as they are this year.”
Viral Lunch Video
O’Connor and another teacher led their students in making a video , which has logged nearly a million YouTube views and netted nationwide media coverage.
It began when a teacher posted a photo of a school lunch on Facebook and received numerous comments from parents and neighbors surprised at the meal’s lack of protein, O’Connor said.
The video portrays students collapsing from hunger during athletic practices and filling lockers with junk food. About 20 high school students and a first-grade class participated. It wasn’t hard to find student volunteers, she said.
O’Connor said she didn’t expect attention, or criticisms she and the students didn’t care about nutrition.
“We’re excited about more fruit and vegetables. Who wouldn’t be?” she said. “We’re not proponents of junk food. [But] because they are hungry, they’re eating more junk food.”
‘Creating a Class System’
Students who don’t have spare change for the vending machines are going hungry, Kind said.
“It’s creating a class system in the schools. The kids that have money can go back and buy more food, and that stigmatizes the kids who can’t,” King said.
For some kids, school lunch is their only substantial meal, Huelskamp said.
“The whole reason they had the school lunch program was for kids who could not afford to pay for their own food,” Huelskamp said. “Now they say, ‘Go buy your own food’?”
Requiring All to Diet
Requiring all students to diet is the wrong way to reduce obesity, King and Huelskamp said.
“The best response is to get the federal government out of the calorie counting business and leave that up to the local schools, and, more importantly, to the parents,” Huelskamp said.
“The people in schools have the best interest of the kids in mind, and they know far better than someone in the USDA or the White House,” King said.
School lunch is not making kids fat, he said. Inactivity, low junk food self-control, and broken families are the main culprits.
“We’re far better off filling them up with meat and potatoes and vegetables,” King said.
Children who don’t eat dinner with their families often raid refrigerators and purchase junk food, he noted.
“We’ve become an inactive society. We’ve become a culture where we encourage kids to play on electronics instead of going outside,” Huelskamp said. “It’s not a school problem. It’s a cultural problem.”
“We Are Hungry,” YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IB7NDUSBOo 
“We Are Hungry,” YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IB7NDUSBOo