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MAYNARDVILLE (WATE) - If your kids have been complaining they're not getting enough to eat at school, they're not alone. It's a concern being heard nationwide since the school year started, but local administrators say their hands are tied.
6 News started looking into this after we got an email from a student at Union County High School, saying he wasn't getting enough food at lunchtime. We thought maybe the school was running low, but it turns out the smaller portions are due to new federal mandates.
Over the years, school lunches have gradually gotten healthier, with less fat and salt and more fresh fruit and whole grains.
"This is our first generation. These kids right here are the ones who are expected to not outlive their parents. It's serious when you look at it that way," said Union County Schools Nutrition Director Jennifer Ensley. She's in charge of making sure each cafeteria meal meets even stricter USDA guidelines that went into effect on July 1.
"Our calorie count went down, what we're allowed to serve per meal. There's tighter regulations on sodium, saturated fat, serving sizes," Ensley said.
That last change has been the hardest. "If it says half a cup, it's half a cup. It's not half a cup heaped up, and the kids notice the difference," she explained.
Ensley hears all about it from one particular sophomore. "My daughter sits here during lunch and texts me the whole time that everybody's mad!" she said.
"There's smaller portions it seems like, and a lot of people don't get full on that," Hannah Ensley said.
She says some of her classmates are now paying for a second helping or packing a lunch. "They have microwaves now so they just bring stuff from home," she said.
But that's not an option for everyone. Seventy percent of students in Union County are on a free or reduced meal plan.
"It's hard to see a kid walk out of here hungry when you don't know what else they're going to have before breakfast tomorrow," Ensley said.
Nutrition directors from several local school districts are meeting Thursday to talk about the new federal guidelines. Ensley hopes to get some more ideas on how to meet the standards and keep her students full.
The new regulations say high school lunches must be under 850 calories, with less than 10 percent of those coming from saturated fat.