But some of the older students are a harder sell. Many remain irked at the shrinkage that the bagels have undergone this fall.
“I’ve never seen a bagel in my life that’s this small,” says Sophia Glazerman, a seventh-grader who now brings her lunch from home every day.
“It’s whole wheat and it’s this small,” adds a friend and classmate Iman Arande .
They also mourn the disappearance of ice cream from the cafeteria in recent years.
Cadwell, who eats in one of his district’s cafeterias each day, has been trying not only to remake the school meals but to make them palatable to students. He introduced the baked-potato bar as a way to “put vegetables on a vegetable.”
He is also trying small changes that he hopes will make vegetables more appealing. In the past, for instance, cafeteria workers cooked a day’s worth of green beans in the morning. “By the time the second lunch rolls around, they’re pretty soggy and gross,” Cadwell said. “Nobody likes to eat those vegetables.”
Now, cafeteria workers cook the beans batch by batch, closer to the time they’re served.
Still, fewer students are buying lunch these days. Across the district, about 30 percent of Brookline’s students buy lunch, down from about 35 percent last year, Cadwell said.
“Our parents are paying $3 a meal for these foods and they’re such small portions,” said Glazerman. “You can never get full.”
At Minuteman, the number of students buying school lunch has dropped about 35 percent from last year, said Superintendent Edward Bouquillon. The decrease, he said, includes students who are eligible for free or reduced meals.
Bouquillon is frustrated that the new federal rules do not consider how much students weigh. Lunches for high school students cannot exceed 850 calories; for elementary students, they must contain fewer than 650 calories.
“We have freshmen who weigh 85 pounds and student-athletes who weigh 280 pounds,” Bouquillon said, “and yet the portion size can’t accommodate the difference, in the regulations as we understand them.”
In Shrewsbury, the cafeteria used to serve Caesar salad with pizza. But now the chicken and croutons add too much protein and grains to the meal, so the district has ditched the salad this year, said Beth Nichols, its director of food services.
The school district kept a salad bar at the high school this fall but removed anything that wasn’t a fruit or vegetable, such as croutons, hard-boiled eggs, and turkey slices, Nichols said. She has seen some high school students buying two lunches each day to get full, while other students are bringing lunch from home, she said.
In September, the district brought in $10,000 less in lunch sales than in the same month last year, she said.
The calorie limits for students are based on the premise that students have eaten a full breakfast, Nichols said, but her experience suggests that most high school students do not.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Nichols said. “We can serve potato chips, but we can’t serve our whole-wheat pasta salad anymore in our deli because the kids will get too many grains.
“To get the equivalent of what they got last year, they would have to spend $6 to $7,” said Nichols. “A lot of the regulations are great, but this one-size-fits-all, without a lot of wiggle room, is really challenging.”
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.