CHICAGO, March 24, 2010— -- What do you remember about lunch at school? Pizza? Burgers?
A coalition of high school students in Chicago spoke out against their school lunch menu today at a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Schools have tended to defend their menus as giving students what they want, but students at the meeting said those foods are sickening.
"Nutrients are missing. Calories are high. Sugar is high," said Teresa Onstott, a high school sophomore. She said that if the cafeteria at her school has ever served vegetables, she has not seen them.
Kids have grumbled for years about the salty fries and mystery meats found in many high school lunches, but in Chicago, those complaints have launched a revolution.
"I want them to remove fast food like pizza, burgers and nachos," said Brian Di Macio, another sophomore.
The student movement started in a nutrition class, when the students learned just how little nutrition they were getting in the cafeteria. The typical lunch was 800 calories' worth of mostly frozen processed food.
They took their food fight straight to the school board today, saying schools are feeding their minds much better than their bodies.
"Parents rely on schools to give their children nutritious meals, not tan-colored slop," said one student.
Another said, "If we could get used to nasty food, why couldn't we get used to healthy food, too?"
Students said their health is in the balance. "Stop complaining about, 'Oh, the kids are getting fat' – change something!" said one student.
Often, the push for better nutrition in school cafeterias has come from adults. First lady Michelle Obama has started a crusade against childhood obesity; celebrity chefs, like Jamie Oliver, are trying to remake what kids eat.
One anonymous teacher has even taken the fight to the Internet. Each day, she eats cafeteria food to blog more accurately about how bad it is.
"I worry that kids are getting offered junk and convenience food because adults believe that that's all they will eat for school lunch. Obviously, we want kids to eat, but should not cater to what a 7-year-old would theoretically prefer to eat," she blogged March 18.
Rochelle Davis, the founder and executive director of Chicago's Healthy Schools Campaign, says part of the problem is financial. Schools have limited resources. They are also not required to adhere to the nutritional requirements set by the government.
"They're not consistent with the recent dietary guidelines for all Americans," she said, "so there's a major effort underway to bring the USDA guidelines into compliance with those dietary guidelines."
Food Fight: Chicago High School Students Argue for Healthier Cafeteria Lunches
Today, Chicago's student protesters got some good news.
Ron Huberman, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, responded by saying, "We've gotten the message and we are, as a system, changing how food service will operate in the district."
Next year's menu will include less salt and sugar – and more fruits and vegetables.
"If you're learning to become the next president … why can't you be given even more of an edge with healthy food for a healthy mind?" asked Onstott.
It is question from children that adults are now being forced to answer.