Students not buying 'healthy' school lunches; some say restrictions must be loosened
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PATERSON - As school lunch programs across the country are being debated in Washington, many in New Jersey say the rules for "healthy" meals may need to be scaled back.
Bethania Martinez, a senior at Eastside High School, says lunch at her school just isn't appealing. "I don't like that food, it's nasty! I don't eat it," she says.
Items like a black bean burger on a whole wheat bun with green beans might be healthier than Tater Tots or sloppy Joes, but kids don't seem to want it.
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Paterson mom Jasmine Manuel says her kids crave more as soon as they get home.
Two years ago, federal guidelines went into place to add more fruits and vegetables and cut down salt and fat. But a House committee recently passed a bill that would let schools opt out of the program. Some Republicans say too many rules were imposed in too short a time, and because schools are so restricted, they say students aren't buying the lunches.
New Jersey's Department of Agriculture says that five years ago there were more than 308,000 students who bought lunches. In the most recent school year, that number plummeted to 227,000.
Experts say it's important to point out that the number of children who qualify for free or reduced meals has also gone up dramatically and that could play a factor.
Officials say unless the students are surveyed, there's no real way to know why numbers are down.