Schoolhouse vs. Jailhouse Food: Who Eats Better?

JONESBORO - It's a "healthy" discussion. Who eats better? Students in school or inmates at the jail?

Well, we took our cameras to the Craighead County Detention Center and the Jonesboro Math & Science Magnet school, which is really representative of any school in Region 8.

Both the school and the jail are heavily regulated by state and federal guidelines. Two totally different populations, sitting down to the table.  So who's getting the better meal?

It's 10:45 a.m. and lunch is served at the Math and Science Magnet school in north Jonesboro. The voices of third graders share opinions on the meal.  It consists of a hotdog, french fries, beans (if the students choose to scoop them up), frozen juice cup, milk and a chocolate chip cookie.

"I have noticed a decline in the number of trays that come up to the trash can and the entire tray is getting dumped," said Rickey Greer, Principal of the Math and Science Magnet School. "We had a lot of that last year."

"We have about 6,000 students that we feed every day," said Dr. Kim Wilbanks, Superintendent, Jonesboro Public Schools.

Across town, food prep is also underway for about 400 at the Craighead County Detention Center. No lunch ladies here.  Food services are out-sourced.

"It's not bad food," said Patti Davis of Tiger Correctional Services. "If I'm in the jail, I eat it."

Davis used to run Sheffield's in downtown Jonesboro.  Now, instead of feeding clientele with choices, she's taking care of those with not so much. These customers are behind barbed wire.

"I think our menu would stack up pretty well against the school menu from what I've seen," said Davis.

So to make it fair, we asked dietician Stacy Hindman, Director of Nutritional Services for St. Bernards, to take a look at both lunches to compare.

"French fries, hot dog and what looks like a chocolate chip cookie," remarks Hindman as she looks at a TV monitor in the editing bays of KAIT. Hindman looked at video we shot at both locations, starting with the school lunch first.

"You know that looks like a really high fat meal to me," said Hindman.  "I'm not sure if the school is serving a turkey dog or a whole beef dog."

The hot dog was actually a low fat/low sodium frank on a whole grain bun. The jail entrée, a hamburger patty.

"Now their meat is not looking so good either," said Hindman.  "But neither meat on either tray is looking good to me."

But, Stacey was really concerned with what was missing from the school tray. "I would like to see some fruits and vegetables," said Hindman.

Jonesboro Public School students have their main entrée placed on their plate and then they come to a food bar where they can find salad or fruit. In this case, it is beans and a frozen fruit cup.  So basically, it comes down to students making a healthy decision for themselves.

"I think that it's better, if you have a young school age child, it's better to have it there for them on their tray."

Guidelines handed down by the USDA says each student should received two and a half cups of fruit every day. Hindman found that by looking up the nutrition value on the frozen fruit there was 100 percent fruit juice.

But that's not the same as a piece of fruit.

Davis says inmates get a half of an orange every morning. "Of course, they don't get any choice with us, " said Davis.  If they don't like something on the plate, they simply don't eat it.

"That's really a high starch meal is what you've got going there," said Hindman of the school lunch.

Now compare to the inmate lunch:  potatoes, four-way mixed vegetable, bread and a brownie. Cost for this tray? $1.10 - 1.14.  School lunch is $2. The difference:  inmate labor is used for preparation at the jail.

"Our actual food-related cost is about $1.25 per tray. We have overhead cost," said Dr. Wilbanks. "School decisions are based on making sure nutritionally and health wise.  We are making very wise choices for our students and that does drive up costs."

So cost aside and back to nutrition, who is getting the better meal?

"I think there are negatives to both," said Hindman. "But the more positive meal is going to be your inmate meal, because it did have vegetables involved.  There were not any vegetables involved in the school meal, unless you want to count french fries as your vegetable."

Now the french fries on the school lunch were baked.

It is a well-known fact that it can be more expensive to eat healthy foods. Unfortunately, in the new year, school lunches will face even more restrictions.

Sodium is being reduced and all grain products will have to be 100 percent whole grain.

In contrast, the Craighead County Detention Center has not been notified of any changes for the new year, but they already serve a low-sodium diet.

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