Philly Students Audited Their Own School Lunches

What they found out will surprise you.

A lunch at  Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design.

A lunch at Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design. | Photo courtesy of City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office

Scarfing down a fattening, stomach-churning lunch every day used to be seen as a normal part of going to public school in America, as much as riding the bus and going to prom are.

But in recent years, as childhood obesity has skyrocketed, parents, students and health experts have pressured school districts to make healthier, more appetizing meals.

In Philadelphia, concerned students at one charter school took it up a notch and recently decided to audit their own lunches to see if they met federal standards.

Under national guidelines, public schools that receive federal aid for their lunch programs must serve a minimum amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk every day.

With the help of City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office, students at the Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) analyzed their lunches for one week and found, perhaps surprisingly, they were up to code.

“Testing showed that the school lunches offered are in compliance with federal nutrition guidelines,” the ‘mock’ audit said.

That doesn’t mean the lunches had any variety (or were tasty, judging by the picture above of a lunch at CHAD): Every single day one week, the grain that students were given was a whole wheat bun. The meat of the day was always either chicken or a hamburger with cheese.

Interestingly, the students also had a hard time obtaining what certainly ought to be public information from their charter school. They asked for a copy of the school’s food services contract, but were denied. Additionally, the audit said:

Although certain key personnel asserted that the lunches students are being served are in compliance with the guidelines, they were unable to provide documentation or other evidence to support the assertion.

We recommend that the school’s administration post all pertinent contract information to the school’s website. This would increase students’ and parents’ awareness about the quality of food being served, and allow for greater transparency in the procurement process.

The kids’ complaints about CHAD’s lack of transparency are not unlike the ones that grown-ups have made about other charter schools in Philadelphia in recent years.

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