New America Media: California’s Pickiest Eaters Grade New School Lunches

November 6, 2012 /

this article was originally a New America Media News Report by Jacob Simas with participation from NAM Youth Wire reporters.

Two months into a new school year that saw stricter federal nutrition guidelines go into effect for school meals, youth reporters from New America Media fanned out in high schools across California to interview their peers and check out the view from the lunch line.

What the reporters found were wide variations in how students grade their new school meals. While none of the school meal programs earned an A, the overwhelming majority of students surveyed – 85 percent – gave them passing grades, and only 13 percent actually handed out F’s.

The findings correlate with those of a formal telephone and internet-conducted survey of students and parents just released by The California Endowment, which found that students and parents in the Golden State prefer the new meals to the old ones, by a ratio of 3 to 1.

The findings also starkly contrast with a report in the New York Times that described the sentiments of some high school students on the East Coast and in Kansas, who are rebelling against the healthier menus on social media, and several others who said they are throwing the food away in preference for chips, cookies and other vending machine options.

New America Media’s youth reporters carried out their peer survey in six California communities – Richmond, Fresno, Merced, South Kern County, Long Beach and the Eastern Coachella Valley — where the vast majority of students attending K-12 public schools qualify for free or subsidized lunch programs. While anecdotal, the interviews – in all, 45 students were surveyed — shed light on what high school students in California are thinking, both positive and critical, about their school lunches.

What exactly do California’s pickiest eaters like most and what do they dislike about their new lunches? What would they change to improve the fare? And how often do they eat school meals?

The youth reporters found some intriguing trends, ones that didn’t always fit the stereotype of junk food-loving, soda-guzzling teenagers. Indeed, if there was one consistent theme, it was an endorsement for fresher food, tastier food, a better variety to choose from and larger portions. None of the students interviewed by NAM mentioned actually throwing their food away. In fact, a number complained that there isn’t enough food being offered and they are often left hungry.

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