School Lunch Debate: DC vs. Virginia

What are local students eating? And could you stomach it?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCWashington.com

    From Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" program to the U.S. Senate Agriculture committee, the U.S. government is working on improving the nutritional quality of school food. It's part of a bid to reduce obesity in children and give them better choices, although some might argue it just means more government control.

    On Wednesday, the committee approved a bill that gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture power -- as well as more money -- to create uniform standards for all foods in schools, including putting limits on vending machine items and handing out more money for free or reduced lunches.

    School Lunches: D.C. vs. Va.

    [DC] School Lunches: D.C. vs. Va.
    Do all school lunches make the grade? Kimberly Suiters compares the fare at a school in the District against one in Fairfax, Va. (Published Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010)

    But what are local students eating? And could you stomach it?

    News4 wanted to compare school lunch programs in D.C. and Fairfax County. School district officials chose which cafeterias were clear for our cameras, then gave us free rein to find out if all school lunches make the same grade.

    At Columbia Heights High School on 16th Street NW, one of the district's largest high schools, there are three lines: one for pizza, one for burgers and fries, and one for the daily special.

    Thirty miles away at Westfield High School, the biggest high school in Virginia, there are more choices: a salad bar, a deli, and more than a dozen different entrees, plus freshly baked cookies.

    Westfield students can also get nutritional bits about every bite, something they had asked for. 

    D.C. students say they want that too -- and it's something Jeffrey Mills, the new executive director of food services for D.C. Public Schools, said he's working on.

    "We'll break it down, not only from fat and Vitamin A and C, but give them [the students] reasons why the food is good for them," Mills told News4.

    Mills' previous claim to fame was as a New York restauranteur and consultant who had a cameo on HBO's "Sex and the City," according to the Washington Post. Now he's trying to improve the food at DC's schools, as well as make sure they get enough food.

    "The first thing I can do is make sure these kids are eating three meals a day," Mills told the Post.

    Of course, some of the differences between the schools' food comes down to money, which is where The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 might help. Fairfax County has three times as many students as D.C. and its budget is three times as large.

    Sixty percent of students in Fairfax buy lunch, versus 87 percent in D.C. Also, only 24 percent of Fairfax students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, compared to about 70 percent in the District. DC students are also charged less for lunch.