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Duluth schools limit healthful food choices

High school cafeterias have never been known for overly nutritious food choices, but students in Duluth's public high schools at least have been fortunate enough to have salad bars.

High school cafeterias have never been known for overly nutritious food choices, but students in Duluth's public high schools at least have been fortunate enough to have salad bars.

Until this year.

Arriving in the lunchroom at the beginning of the school year, many students were dismayed to discover the salad bars gone. In an age when childhood obesity is a serious problem for far too many students, it's saddening that one of the few healthful options the school district offered had been eliminated.

It's not as if the salad bars went unused. At East High School, the salad bar's disappearance was cited as a top-five issue in a recent survey of students. Salad purchases in the lunchroom have decreased 75 percent since the salad bar was removed, according to lunchroom staff.

Salad bars also were removed at Denfeld and Central high schools.

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Why?

A subcommittee of East's student government group, the Student Forum, asked Director of Food Services Jim Bruner why the salad bar at East was removed. Bruner, while setting up a new Slushee machine in the cafeteria, said contamination due to handling, cost-effectiveness and "homeland security concerns" were the arguments against salad bars.

It seems unlikely terrorists would go after high school salads any time soon. And if salad bars are a financial burden, how was the school district able to pay for new junk-food machines? The numbers don't add up. The profit of the school district should not come before student health. As for the possibility of contamination, East High School never has encountered such an incident. Enhanced staff supervision could help alleviate problems with food handling.

More supervision also could ensure students are not taking more than their share of salad, causing the district a financial loss. If portion sizes are an issue, schools could add scales to weigh salads and then charge accordingly.

In the school district's defense, the high schools have added packaged salads as a replacement for salad bars. But these salads fall far short of the quality of salad bars. Packaged salads occasionally contain rotten ingredients, and students rarely eat everything supplied in them. Packaged salads also come with a lot of smaller food containers, creating excess waste.

Through student and administration cooperation, salad bars certainly can be run profitably at Duluth's high schools. Until then, many students will continue to turn to less-healthful food options, or they'll leave school altogether in search of good lunches.

Karl Schuettler is a 16-year-old junior at East High School and a member of the school's Student Forum.

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