A group of students mumble in disappointment during a cooking class at Dodge City High School (DCHS). Soon, these students will have one of their day time treats taken away from them as they become subject to new rules regarding school vending machines. It is part of an ever-changing spectrum of regulations that governs what students are allowed to eat during the school day.
A group of students mumble in disappointment during a cooking class at Dodge City High School (DCHS). Soon, these students will have one of their day time treats taken away from them as they become subject to new rules regarding school vending machines. It is part of an ever-changing spectrum of regulations that governs what students are allowed to eat during the school day. For Dodge City's public schools, nutrition policies are managed at the state level and passed down to the schools in three separate groupings: Kindergarten through five, six through eight and nine through 12. Each age group is allotted a certain amount of fruit, vegetables, grains, meats and milk. Maximum sodium levels and calorie intake ranges are also included. What the table doesn't illustrate are the mixed opinions regarding such state-mandated nutrition requirements, as well as the student backlash to changes implemented beyond the local level. “It's OK,” one Dodge City Middle School (DCMS) student says, reflecting on her meal in the school cafeteria. “[The portions] aren't very big. I'm usually hungry still after lunch. The fruit looks old.” She waits a moment, then adds, “I'll get the healthy food if it looks fresh and good.” Feelings at the high school aren't any more optimistic. “You can ask anyone here about that,” one dark-haired student says, looking out over the cafeteria. “It's bad.” Delving further into the kitchen one is greeted with pessimism. A nutrition teacher on the second floor is asked if any of her students complain about the food. The response: “Almost constantly.” Where did the disdain originate from? Much of the blame can be linked to changing state mandates which, while targeting healthier eating habits, have also generated greater student dissatisfaction. “I think the school lunch program has done a good job reducing the fat content, but not done a good job replacing it with herbs and spices,” DCHS nutrition teacher Nancy Becker said. A new requirement this year is that schools switch from serving white flour-based goods to those made of whole grain, spanning anything from tortilla rolls to cinnamon buns. The move has been unpopular with many students, as have others that have reduced flavor for the sake of healthy eating. At DCHS, reduced sodium requirements have taken effect: something that will affect the other schools next year. Another recent change has been a reduction in portion sizes. At the high school, students used to be served two tacos at lunch. Now they are only served one. While some feel little effect from the change, others are left feeling hungry. A 16-year-old inactive female student doesn't require the same caloric intake of a 16-year-old active male student. “I think this is an example of trying to make a rule that covers everybody and it just doesn't work,” Becker said. The same policies are felt at the elementary level, but the reaction there is different. At Miller Elementary School, students have seemed more adaptive to the change and less averse to its requirements. “Most of the kids at Miller always like their breakfast or their lunches,” Principal Joyce Warshaw said. “We have good eaters here at Miller.” Warshaw said students have less negative feelings toward the reduced portions, especially given the all-you-can-eat fruits and vegetables policy. “What I've seen is that kids are eating more fruits and vegetables, so they're kind of compensating which is a good thing,” she said. At Miller, health and nutrition is taught in P.E. class. As students advance in grade level, nutritional instruction becomes more formal. At DCMS, sixth and seventh grade students are required to take at least one quarter of health. Eighth graders do weight lifting and all students do P.E. every other day. A Health and Physical Fitness Night is held each year. At DCHS, more classes on nutrition and wellness are offered, but they are not required. P.E. is a requirement. DCHS is the only school where vending machines are offered for students. A quick glance at one reveals comparatively healthy choices of juice, Powerade Zero, fruitwater, vitamin water and regular water. Another holds chocolate milk, while the snack machines also carry less healthy choices. Some teachers doubt whether the school's snack machines are in fact in compliance with state requirements. DCHS' vending machines, like food policies throughout the school system, will undergo a change in the near future. But will these policies in fact create positive change? Some think so. “I've been very excited about this program and the results,” Warshaw said.