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Florida School Considers Using “Trash-Cams” to Keep Kids from Tossing New Federally Mandated Cafeteria Food

LAKE COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Lake County School Board is debating whether to use “trash-cams” to determine what and how much school cafeteria food is being thrown away by students. This comes in the wake of newly implemented national guidelines for nutrition in schools.

According to school officials, Lake County Students threw away $75,000 worth of produce last year when its schools were trying out the new rules before the regulations were implemented. One solution seems to be cameras aimed at cafeteria trash cans to determine what is being thrown away.

“It’s a big issue, and it’s very hard to get our hands around it,” Todd Howard, the school board member who suggested the trash cameras, told a local news affiliate in in Orlando. “They have to take (the vegetable), and then it ends up in the trash can, and that’s a waste of taxpayer money. It’s also not giving students the nutrition that they need.”

Some parents are objecting to the new federal nutrition regulations because they believe it is not the schools’ job to get children to eat their peas and carrots.“I think it starts at home with the parents,” said Laurel Walsh who has a daughter in the Lake County school. “If the kids just don’t like it because they’ve never been given it at home, they’re not going to try something new here.”

This year, prompted by changes in federal school-lunch rules, Central Florida students are not allowed to turn down the healthful produce, much of which can end up in the dumpster. School Board members say they want stricter trash monitoring to figure out what’s working and what’s not with the new federal policy.

Prompted by changes in federal school-lunch rules, Central Florida students are not allowed to turn down the healthful produce, much of which can end up in the dumpster. “It would give us an idea of what food was being eaten,” said Howard.

The new federal rules have radically reshaped the school-food business by placing calorie limits on meals, requiring a colorful variety of vegetables and dictating more-frequent food audits. Districts that don’t comply risk losing thousands of dollars a year in federal funds.

School food staffers can’t serve as many french fries and now must make weekly servings of bright veggies such as spinach or carrots. Calorie cutbacks also mean portion sizes are smaller, and some foods are nixed altogether. Burritos in Seminole County Florida, for instance, are stuffed with less cheese and rice, while baked chips are no longer on the menus.

Food audits, which count calories as well nutrients such as protein and calcium, will happen more frequently. Schools that pass will get an extra 6 cents on top of the $2.77 they receive for an average free lunch.

Nationally, as more schools adjust to the new rule, many are starting to take trash studies more seriously. The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has put $2 million into a similar idea in San Antonio schools, where researchers photograph students’ plates during lunch. Other districts in Texas and Massachusetts are contracting with researchers who will monitor lunchtime trash.

The school meal standards — which cap meal calories at 650 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, at 700 calories for middle school students and 850 for high school students — also dictate the number of breads, proteins, vegetables and fruits children are allowed per meal.

But children and parents across the country are already fed up with the restrictive new school meal regulations implemented by the Department of Agriculture under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which has long been touted by first lady Michelle Obama.

Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp introduced legislation earlier this month to roll back the new standards. A spokesman for the Congressman said his office has heard more complaints about the issue during the past few weeks than any other.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King and Huelskamp introduced the “No Hungry Kids Act,” which would repeal the USDA rule that resulted in the new standards last week.

“The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food,” Huelskamp said in a statement. “The USDA’s new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the Nutrition Nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school.”

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