Healthier School Lunches May Leave Kids Hungry

Guests

Jessica Donze Black, director, Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, Pew Charitable Trusts
Ann Cooper, chef, director of food services, Boulder Valley School District
Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder and chief innovation officer, Revolution Foods

In school cafeterias across the country, students are seeing big changes on their lunch trays. Responding to the growing childhood obesity epidemic, the USDA approved new rules for the federal school lunch program, the first such changes to student lunches in more than a decade.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. More than 38 million kids get their lunches through the National School Lunch Program, and with more than a third of the nation's youngsters overweight or obese, the cafeteria has become a battleground.

New federal guidelines call for lighter, healthier food with fewer calories, more fruit and veggies. Put a lot of parents, doctors and dieticians on that side. But at least some kids hate it. Their cries of hunger sound like a variant of the old joke that the food tastes terrible and the portions are way too small.

Students and parents, we want to hear from you. What's changing in your lunchroom? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we'll play back excerpts from U.N. speeches by Egypt's new president on free speech and religion and Israel's prime minister on Iran and red lines. But first, school lunches. Jessica Donze Black is director of the Pew Trust's Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project; she joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.

JESSICA DONZE BLACK: Thank you.

CONAN: So what's on the lunch tray now, and how's it different from last spring?

BLACK: So the United States Department of Agriculture updated the standards for school lunches for the first time in 17 years, and those standards went into effect this fall. So that's what all the talk is about. In fact most of the standards people are really supportive of. It's more fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains, low-fat, no-fat dairy, the things we know kids need more of.

One of the pieces that also changed was historically USDA always had minimum calories that had to be provided, and now there's a range that's age-appropriate. So you have to have at least a certain number of calories so kids don't go hungry, but then you can't go over a certain level of calories so that we're careful not to overfeed kids while we're getting them all the nutrition they need.

CONAN: And who has to comply with these?

BLACK: Any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program needs to comply, which is really most of the schools across the country.

CONAN: And what happens if you don't?

BLACK: Well, actually, the good news is there's more of a carrot than a stick in this.

CONAN: So to speak.

BLACK: So to speak, right, in that schools that do comply with the new standards are actually going to receive additional reimbursement. So all schools that participate in the school lunch program get money from the federal government for each meal that they serve.

If their menus are in compliance with the new standards, they actually get an additional six cents per meal they serve this year for stepping up the quality of those meals.

CONAN: One of the things that we always heard was that fresher, healthier food is also more expensive food, and this is going to put a strain on a lot of school districts' budgets.

BLACK: Certainly one reason for the increased reimbursement is to help schools compensate for any of those changes, but what a lot of schools we've talked to have found is that by tailoring their menus so that they're not providing excess amounts of things that the kids potentially don't need, and making sure they are providing adequate amounts of those things they do need, they still can balance those budgets.

CONAN: But then there's the yuck factor from the students: I don't want to eat it. And then they get hungry.

BLACK: Well, the meals are really designed so that if students eat what is available, they will certainly get adequate nutrition, and in many places we're seeing that students are in fact eating that food and enjoying it and maybe even trying new fruits or vegetables because there's some incentive to do that.

CONAN: Hunger it's called, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK: Exactly. And that said, you know, to the extent that they pick around things and don't eat everything, they may be more hungry, although what's interesting is that USDA had actually done a study a couple of years ago that looked at what was actually being served and what kids were eating, and particularly in high school, as an example, the current calorie cap is 850 calories.

When we look at what students were actually eating on average a couple of years ago, it was around 790 calories in an average lunch. So it hasn't changed as dramatically as perhaps people think it has.

CONAN: So it was just about the same when pizza and hamburgers were on the menu.

BLACK: Well, there may have been more options for less healthy things in the past, whereas now all the options trend towards healthier things, which is ultimately a way to help encourage kids to try those meals and enjoy them.

CONAN: We want to hear from those of you involved in school lunch. Parents, students, what's on the lunch menu now, and how's it going where your school is? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Eric's on the line with us from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

ERIC: Hi, how are you doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

ERIC: I love your show, and I listen to it all the time.

CONAN: Thank you.

ERIC: I am a parent of two children who eat just about everything because they didn't get a choice on what they were going to eat besides what was for dinner, no peanut butter and jelly, no mac and cheese in case they didn't think they liked it. Plus I'm a chef, and I personally cook and privately cook, and when I get children that are coddled when they're young and don't - can have whatever they want instead of what everybody else is having, it takes about three to six weeks to convince them that good food, tasty food, may come in different colors than what they're used to and that it takes about that long for them to get used to not having their choice about what else to eat.

Dinner is what's for dinner, and pretty soon they get to realize that, and they start to come around. So I applaud the school lunch program to try to do this. It's going to take time, just as the Naked Chef did when he tried it. It's going to take time for everybody to get used to eating better. And yes, there's going to be lots of complaints.

CONAN: So on that timeline, Jessica Donze Black, maybe if schools started at Labor Day, maybe we ought to wait at least until Columbus Day before we deliver a verdict.

BLACK: There is something to be said for perhaps it's too early. And there are actually a lot of schools that were ahead of the curve on this and started, as many as several years ago, starting to make changes, seeing what kids needed.

A great example is St. Paul Public Schools, and you can actually go to their Facebook page and look at their meal of the day and see what they've had. And they found that over time kids have become much more receptive to the new foods that they've tried them and started to enjoy them.

CONAN: Eric, thanks very much for the call.

ERIC: You're very welcome. Keep up the good work, bye-bye.

CONAN: Thank you. And let's go next to - this is Mary, and Mary's with us from Springdale, Arkansas.

MARY: Hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm good, thanks.

MARY: I was just calling in because I have three children, and they eat lunch at the cafeteria, and they have been commenting this fall that they were very hungry and that they had noticed that they can't eat as much at school. And I thought it was interesting that you all are talking about it on the show. We've had to actually supplement their food with a snack. So I send them a snack every morning so they can eat and not be starving when they get home.

CONAN: So your - the calorie limits are meant to attack this obesity problem, but hunger, you're not going to have your kids be hungry.

MARY: Right, and I mean, my children are healthy eaters. They know what they're eating. They're not complaining about the flavor of the food. They think it's quite good. But they're pretty lean and active, and I guess they have high metabolisms. So they are hungry.

CONAN: And what kind of a snack do you send with them?

ERIC: It varies. I try to send a piece of fruit and something with some carbs in it, some crackers or chips sometimes, which I know is not a healthy choice, but it helps.

CONAN: It helps, OK. Thanks very much, Mary, appreciate the phone call.

MARY: Thank you.

BLACK: The standards are intended to meet one-third of the needs of the average child. So there are certainly going to be some kids who are exceptional and need more, and schools can participate in the after-school snacks program. They can participate in a breakfast program in order to help supplement the needs of those kids. Or parents can send a healthy snack, particularly if they have after-school sports or something where they may be staying at school a longer amount of time.

CONAN: Food service professionals in schools all over the country are having to rethink some of the ways they do things in order to comply with these new rules. Chef Ann Cooper is among them. She serves as food service director at Boulder Valley School District. You might know her as the Renegade Lunch Lady. Ann Cooper joins us now from her office in Boulder, Nice to have you with us.

ANN COOPER: Thanks, great to be here.

CONAN: And what's on the menu there in Boulder today?

COOPER: Well, you know, we have all kinds of great things on our menu. And during the course of - today, as a matter of fact, we had chicken pot pie, we had ribs, and we had chicken quesadillas.

CONAN: So plenty of choice there.

COOPER: That was in secondary, and in elementary school we had two of those choices. So we actually have great choices, I think, and everything in our district's made from scratch (technical difficulties) healthy. But I will say that we're in our fourth year of making these changes, so it's not as dramatic as it might seem to other people who are just starting.

CONAN: You haven't always been in the school lunch business. When did you decide to switch from fancy restaurants to school cafeterias?

COOPER: In 1999. Prior to '99 I was a white-tablecloth sort of semi-celebrity chef, cooked all over this country, on cruise ships, things like that. And now I'm a lunch lady.

CONAN: A lunch lady. Do you wear a hairnet?

COOPER: I don't. I wear a hat.

CONAN: OK, and I know that you first tried this out in Berkeley.

COOPER: I actually first, very first started at a private school in New York and then went to Berkeley, California for four years. And I'm in my fourth year here in Boulder now.

CONAN: And were you meeting any kind of resistance in Berkeley?

COOPER: Absolutely. And when I came to Boulder as well. I mean people don't necessarily want you to tell them what to eat. And so when I went to Berkeley and then came to Boulder, and I said we're getting rid of all the trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup and no more chocolate milk, no French fries, no tater tots, no chicken nuggets, you know, there was this laundry list of things (technical difficulties).

You know, so there's initial pushback when you do that, but then there's a lot of things that we instituted, like salad bars in every school, which now with the new guidelines are really helpful because that's where all the fruits and vegetable can be. And food cooked from scratch and a lot of great items and choices for kids. So it really - it really does work once you take the time to work with the kids and educate the kids and spend time, make the kids part of the process.

CONAN: Nevertheless, I've read that you suffered a hunger strike by some fifth-graders.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Yeah, that was quite some time ago, but that's true. That was at the Roth School in New York. And we did. And they really hated my grilled cheese sandwiches. They hated the cheese, and they hated the bread, and the reason they hated it, it was beautiful, nice aged cheddar cheese on bread we had made, and they were used to, you know, kind of Wonder, squishy bread and American cheese singles.

So but, you know, we did a cheese tasting with the kids, and we let them help bake bread with us, and then over time, you know, things changed.

CONAN: And I know you've heard these online videos, we played a bit of one a bit earlier, where kids protest they're hungry, we're hungry tonight. What's your take on that?

COOPER: You know, I - first of all, I want to say I totally support what the USDA is trying to do, and 850 calories for lunch for most children is plenty. That's not a small amount of calories for a meal that should be approximately a third of your daily calories.

The problem is there was never any maximum, so kids used to be able to have two or three pieces of pizza, chocolate milk and a cookie, and that would be lunch. And now instead of that, we're telling them you can have one piece of pizza, a big, beautiful salad, fruit, milk, some other stuff.

So what we've done here - again, we're in our fourth year of change, so I think it's a little different, but we market salad bars as endless. We have salad bars K-12. So all of our students can eat as much salad as they want. They can come back for seconds or thirds on salad. They can have as much fruit as they want, and they can have as much organic milk as they want.

So even though the portion sizes may seem slightly smaller, we give them all these other options, and we've had very, very little pushback. The other thing (technical difficulties)...

CONAN: We're going to have to wait on that other thing till we get back from a short break. So stay with us, if you would. Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady; also Jessica Donze Black is with us from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's school lunch day on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. One group of students in Kansas took their frustrations with lighter school lunches to YouTube, singing "We Are Hungry." It's been viewed nearly half-a-million times. One of the students is a16-year-old football player, complained to USAToday that last year they got six chicken nuggets, this year just three.

As schools across the country work to meet new guidelines for healthy lunches, we're talking about what's changed on student lunch trays. And students, parents, we want to hear from you. What's changing in your school's lunchroom? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can get the conversation on the website as well. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We got this email from Michelle Closer(ph) at the West Salem School District in Wisconsin. She's the school nutrition director there. And I wanted to share this picture I took yesterday of just one our options in our high school. We made many of the changes that are now required a few years ago. Our count at high school has not decreased. Many of the schools in our area are serving very similar meals.

And I'm just flipping over to take a look at the picture. There's one of the familiar cartons of milk, looks like a half-pint, tomatoes in a cup, in a small cup, broccoli, salad, chicken, snow peas and carrots and potatoes. Doesn't look too bad.

We're talking with our guests: Jessica Donze Black, a director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Also with us, Chef Ann Cooper, director of food services at the Boulder Valley School District, author of many books, most recently "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children." And she's with us by phone from there.

And before we went away to that last break, I had to cut you off, Chef Cooper. You were trying to make a point.

COOPER: Well, one of the things we did when we were working on the changes here in Boulder is we thought about the way these maximums work, and two of the things that happened is there's now maximums on protein and maximums on grains.

So bread sizes would get smaller, tortillas would get smaller, the portion of pasta might get smaller, and also portion of animal protein or any protein. So for instance, if we used to serve a half a cup of a taco or nacho or burrito filling, and now we might only be able to serve two ounces of protein, of beef in this case (technical difficulties) we still serve a half a cup, but we've pureed beans and vegetables and stuff.

And so from a kid's stomach point of view, how much they're eating, it feels like the same, and the flavor components are the same. So we also really worked on recipes to make sure the kids would feel like they're getting enough food.

CONAN: Let's go next to Sandra(ph), Sandra with us from Colona in Iowa.

SANDRA: Yes, hi, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SANDRA: Well, I have an observation. My daughter is in ninth grade in this local school district, and she's coming home, she's a healthy eater at home, and - but she's complaining that the school lunches, for the most part, end up being very flavorless. And I've seen the menus, and they look like they have the potential of being good.

But then I have a friend who was recently hired at a local private school with the same guidelines, and she knows how to cook, and the teachers and all the students are just commenting every day to her of, you know, thanking her for how wonderful the food is. And it's the same recipes, same menu, but she knows how to put it together.

CONAN: And Jessica Donze Black suggests the importance of good execution, good cooking.

BLACK: Absolutely. I mean what the United States Department of Agriculture sets out, the basic nutrition standards. How that is executed is absolutely based on local decision-making. And so this is actually a great opportunity for parents to connect with their local school food service director, find out what they're doing, see if there's a way they can be supportive, what are the hurdles.

You know, are there different things we want to try? There are great tools available either through USDA or other online organizations for free, great menu options to try so that schools can engage in this a little bit differently and serve things that the kids will genuinely enjoy.

CONAN: And here's an email from Kristen(ph) on the same point: We eat reasonable, healthy food at home, and I've been making bagged lunches for my kids the last four years. They simply did not like the uber-processed school food. We recently moved to another state, and the new school is cooking on-site, has two choices each day, has fruit and salad. No more bagged lunches. The kids want to eat at school.

And so Chef Ann Cooper, that - again, you've got to do it right.

COOPER: You really do. I mean, one of the most important things as we start to make these changes is teaching people how to cook. Here in Boulder we have (technical difficulties). It's really important that they know how to cook, that you give them the skills, that you give them the ingredients, as much as the budget will allow, to produce the best possible food.

You know, without training, it's never going to work.

CONAN: We're having - being betrayed by our cell phone apps, our smartphone apps today. We're going to switch you over to the regular phone, if you don't mind. While we're doing that, let's get Tom in on the line, and Tom's with us from - excuse me, now the phone screen is acting up. Tom is with us from Turtle Lake in Wisconsin.

TOM: Hi, thanks. I have three kids in school, grade school, middle school, and this year with the new regulations plus the school farmed out their cafeteria to a commercial for-profit organization, they've been complaining that they aren't getting enough to eat.

And we've cut back on the school lunches and started sending more bagged lunches with them so they get enough to eat now. My kids are active. They're not overweight, sit in front of the TV type of kids, and they're the ones that are basically getting, well, not enough to eat, so...

CONAN: Have you talked to the school about that?

TOM: Yeah, it's been mentioned. It's just getting started. Like I said, they just switched to a commercial for-profit cafeteria organization. So that could be part of the problem. But the biggest complaint my kids have at lunch is that they're not getting enough to eat.

My one complaint too is the push for the low-fat, no-fat dairy products too, because fat is a necessary nutrient. The brain has a high percentage of fat, and these growing, developing kids need the fat. And pushing this colored water for milk is I don't think a good idea either.

CONAN: Chef Cooper, it sounds like you don't go for the low-fat milk, or do you?

COOPER: Well, actually, the new USDA guidelines say that you're only allowed to serve nonfat and one-percent milk. So this isn't something that the schools have a choice on. This is now under the new guidelines; this is mandated.

TOM: Well, then it's bureaucrats goofing things up again.

CONAN: Jessica Donze Black, I was saying, has this raised an issue of wait a minute, what are you doing here?

BLACK: Well, actually, the new standards are based on the recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which based - which puts together dietary guidelines for Americans, which set forth sort of what kids need nutritionally. And there is still fat in the school meals, it just has to be within a reasonable level.

And the low-fat no-fat dairy requirements are really tied specifically to kids' need and then what is too much when it comes to saturated fat. So the guidelines are very much in line with what children actually need to grow and develop in a very healthy way.

CONAN: Tom, thanks...

TOM: I don't agree.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call, Tom. Some school districts have their own chefs and their own food service professionals. Many choose to contract with a private food service provider. One of those is Revolution Foods. Kirsten Saenz Tobey co-founded that company in 2005. They have since contracted with schools all across the country, and she's with us on her phone from Oakland, California. Nice to have you on the program today.

KIRSTEN SAENZ TOBEY: Hi, good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, what's on the lunch trays you provide?

TOBEY: Well, so we provide a wholesome, healthy meal for students in preschool through 12th grades. And everything we do is we really - we have chefs preparing the food every day so that it tastes great. I think what Chef Ann is saying is right on. If the food isn't prepared well and doesn't taste good, you know, no kid is going to eat it. So we really focus on chef-prepared meals.

But we do a lot of home-style kind of favorites. We do everything from, you know, chicken enchiladas on whole-grain tortillas to a great all-beef grass-fed hotdog on a whole-grain bun and, you know, everything in between. So there's a very wide range but always a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. We've been doing that for the last six-and-a-half years now. Fresh fruits and vegetables have always been a really big part of the meals that we serve.

And so with the new regulations, it's not a huge change.

CONAN: Not a huge change for you. I was asking about the grass-fed beef, a little bit more expensive than the regular kind.

TOBEY: Well, of course bringing higher-quality ingredients into the kitchen is - can be more expensive. But the more you can make from scratch on, you know, across the board, the more you can kind of control costs in the production of the food.

We also really try to partner with our suppliers up the supply chain. So, you know, we partner with a great rice producer here in California, who has planted an entire field of rice for the schools that we serve. And it's an organic brown rice. It's a wonderful product that we found at a farmer's market originally.

So if we can - we've been really trying to build those kinds of partnerships with - you know, in some cases with small suppliers that we can help to grow and to access a more regional or a national market. You know, working with - working closely with our supply chain is the best way that we have found to reduce costs, not just kind of buying whatever the most, you know, kind of cheap, highly processed food off the shelf is.

CONAN: So that's one of the benefits of scale.

TOBEY: Exactly.

CONAN: And I wonder, though, is it important to start the kids younger? It would seem if you're switching when you're, you know, 13 or 14 years old, that could be more of a problem.

TOBEY: I think that's a really good point. And one of the most compelling things that I've heard in the last couple of weeks or in this whole debate around the new regulations is that the - we really have to count on the - we have to really consider the impact that the classes currently in kindergarten is going to see with these new regulations.

I mean, we currently have - you know, the kids who are in high school are already suffering, many of them from diabetes and early, you know, early onset conditions that normally, you know, shouldn't hit until adulthood. But the kids who are in kindergarten today are going to start out with school food that is high quality, that's whole - you know, based on whole grains. They're going to start eating more fruits and vegetables. They're going to learn that they need to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, and so that's how they will fill themselves up as they're eating their meals.

And the - and those kids will grow up knowing that that's what school food is. And so I just - I think it's so important that we focus a lot of our efforts on making sure that, you know, that food tastes great for those kids so that they learn that what - that the foods that they're getting in school not only tastes good and will fill them up, but will also make them feel good in the afternoon, after lunch and, you know, the next day as they're trying to get through their classes.

So I think that - it's a really - it's an excellent point, that the younger that we can start kids on a healthier, you know, healthier diet, healthier choices, the more they will continue to make healthy choices in their growing up life and adult life.

CONAN: Let's get Lorena(ph) on the line. Lorena is with us from Louisville. Lorena, you there? I guess she's left us. I'm sorry for that. Let's instead go to - this is Kirsten(ph), Kirsten with us from Lafayette, Colorado.

KIRSTEN: Hi. I was originally calling to talk about what a great school district I live in because we have the most wonderful lunch program here. And then, all of a sudden, Ann Cooper was there, and that excited me even more. I have a daughter in middle school and a daughter in elementary school. And we happen to be vegetarian, and it's really great that Boulder Valley School District offers vegetarian items also every day.

So my kids, in the morning, when I say, OK, what do you want me to pack for lunch, usually they pull out the calendar that the Boulder Valley School District makes. And they say, well, what's our option today at school? And half the time - or, actually, sometimes more than half the time - they like what school - the school offers more than what I'm going to make for them from scratch. And Ann has done such an amazing job with the Boulder Valley District's school program, lunch program, that I can't say enough about it. And they get more than enough to eat at lunch, and the food is extraordinary.

CONAN: Well, chef Ann Cooper, you couldn't ask for a nicer endorsement than that.

COOPER: I know. What a lovely surprise. Thank you for your kind words. But...

KIRSTEN: You're welcome. It's fantastic.

COOPER: Well, thank you. And I want to echo what Kirsten said, is that, you know, we're in year four. So, last year, our count in Boulder were up - our participation was at 5 percent, and we're already at 5 percent this year over last year. But a lot of that is because this is the fourth year that kids are eating the food.

And when you make these kind of changes, you have to be looking 10 years out. So the high school kids that made the video or the high school kids that are complaining are seeing changes for the very first time, and I think that that's very, very difficult to overcome.

CONAN: Well...

KIRSTEN: Absolutely. My youngest is in fourth grade. My oldest is in seventh. And I remember the first year, they said, oh, we don't have those French toast sticks anymore that we can dip. And I was just, well, that is really not healthy lunch. And I don't hear any of that anymore. They're just excited about whatever is on the menu since they've gotten to taste them over the few years. And now it's - they're just excited that there are actually things they can eat at school because there are vegetarian items every day for them, and they're all really tasty. They're good.

CONAN: Kirsten, thanks again for the call.

KIRSTEN: Thank you. And thank you, Ann.

COOPER: Thank you.

CONAN: That's chef Ann Cooper, director of food services at Boulder Valley School District. Also with us, Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Revolution Foods in Oakland, California. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

A couple of emails, this from Meryl(ph) in Maui: Aloha from Maui, where you would think our school lunches would feature some of our readily available fresh food. They don't. A vegetable is often a few pieces of iceberg lettuce flown thousands of miles. My four children take a home lunch prepared by their vegetarian mother, and they always eat what I pack.

And this from Delano(ph) in New Orleans: As the deputy superintendent of services for the Louisiana Recovery School District, we have just implemented this healthy model in our schools, and participation from students has increased tremendously partly because we've been able to find a partner in our food service management company who meets the regional taste needs of an environment where food drives our culture, along with meeting the nutritional value that students need and deserve. This requires commitment from adults more than students, which is, at times, the hardest group to navigate.

And, Kirsten Saenz Tobey, you do lunches all over the country. You have to take that regional variance into account?

TOBEY: We absolutely do. And actually, the Recovery School District in New Orleans is one of the districts that we work with, so I appreciate the recognition there from Delano. It's incredibly important. I mean, of course, taste and, you know, quality of preparation is important, but regional palate is so critical too.

And I think the other point that you just made in the email that you read is that it takes leadership from the school's side to ensure that kids are learning in the lunchroom as well as learning in the classroom. And I think that it takes teachers, it takes faculty, it takes principals and school leaders both setting an example and encouraging kids to make healthy choices, to get kids to actually change their habits and choose to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables because it's - if you have teachers who are coming into the lunchroom or even hiding in their classroom with a bag from a fast food restaurant or a - or, you know, junk food that they've picked up on their way to school, it shows kids that just like any other choices that teachers makes - that teachers make and faculty make...

CONAN: Has to be modeled, yeah.

TOBEY: ...kids look up to their faculty.

CONAN: Let's get Lorena. She's called back from Louisville. You're on the line, Lorena. Go ahead, please.

LORENA: Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead.

LORENA: Well, I always bring my lunch to school, but I've noticed problems with portion control at the school lunches.

CONAN: Some are bigger than others?

LORENA: Well, no. It's that there are a lot of kids that don't need a very big lunch. So - but they're forced to get a lot of food, and so it's wasted. But then there are other kids who need a big lunch and they don't get enough.

CONAN: So there's not enough thought given to each individual. It's all one-size-fits-all?

LORENA: Yeah.

CONAN: And what's your favorite school lunch, Lorena?

LORENA: Probably pizza but I know it's not very healthy.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I think you're with a lot of kids. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

LORENA: Yeah. Of course.

CONAN: And don't forget to do your homework tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

LORENA: Thanks.

CONAN: All right. And thanks to all of our guests as well, to Jessica Donze Black here in Studio 3A, Chef Ann Cooper out there in Boulder, Colorado, and Kirsten Saenz in Oakland, California. We appreciate you taking the time today.

BLACK: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you.

CONAN: And when we come back...

TOBEY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: ...we're going to be hearing more tape from the United Nation's General Assembly earlier in the week. We heard several world leaders speaking on critical issues, most importantly on the looming crisis with Iran. Today, the Israeli prime minister and the new president of Egypt as well. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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