Fried: Agrave la carte no more in Albemarle

Students immediately noticed: the most popular cafeteria offering in Albemarle high schools, an order of french fries, is no longer available, at least not a la carte. Now a burger or pizza comes with the fries, and some students aren't a bit happy about the change.

"Ridiculous," sneers Thomas Meert, a junior at Albemarle High School. "They're punishing the people who just buy fries. Now you have to buy a burger with them, and it's the greasiest thing you've ever seen. The cheese is pure fat."

"Ridiculous," echoes Ryan Birckhead at Western Albemarle High. "I can drive a car, but I can't decide to buy just fries."

Birckhead, who packs his lunch, is particularly incensed. Because of his food allergies, french fries are the only food at Western he can eat.

And there's one other thing: "Western's fries are quite tasty," says Birckhead.

The reason the fries at county high schools are so delicious is why they're in hot water– or at least hot oil. They're deep fried, unlike the city schools' baked fries, which are still available a la carte. But no one at CHS is getting in line to buy just an order of fries, according to Alicia Cost, who's in charge of nutrition for Charlottesville schools.

"The calorie difference is significant," she says. "There's a huge amount of calories" in fried fries.

"The one thing we heard about high school students was that all they ever buy was a plate of french fries every day," says Albemarle's executive director of support services Diane Behrens, who stresses that french fries are still available.

And with a growing national concern about obesity, "that's the reason parents have come to us and asked us to do something," says Behrens.

Over at Western, cafeteria manager Ty Johnson says he's heard some grumbling, but students "have accepted it fairly well. They understand we're doing it for health reasons, not to punish them."

And he points out that economically and nutritionally, "It makes a whole lot more sense to buy the whole meal." Last year, a large order of fries cost $1.25. "For 50 cents more, you can get a wrapped sandwich, milk, a small salad, and a fruit."

County high schoolers aren't the only ones enduring the nutritional push. Now middle schools have limited sales of cookies and ice cream to one day a week. And Jack Jouett Middle School has cut its Little Debbie snack line entirely.

"I've gotten maybe a dozen comments from kids, and they were certainly disappointed," says Jouett principal Dave Rogers. But he hasn't heard any complaints from parents about the rationing.

The fryers have been taken out of county middle schools– and eventually it could happen at the high schools, says Behrens. And county cafeterias are offering baked or reduced fat chips. "We're slowly improving things," says Behrens.

But not everyone believes forcing teenagers to buy a meal with their fries is going to slow obesity. "Now they have to eat pizza they wouldn't eat if it wasn't on their plate," complains one parent.

"Western students are pretty creative," says Birckhead. "It's a matter of time before somebody brings in their own fryer."

And for those like Meert who just want fries, there's the traditional "buy and ditch" used by school kids over the ages.

"I usually give the burger to someone or throw it away," he says. "The burger is the most disgusting thing you've ever tasted."

You can't eat just one. Now Albemarle insists high schoolers have a burger or pizza along with their fries.


Western Albemarle 11th grader Ryan Birckhead resents the county not having enough faith in his ability to choose a nutritious meal.


Most students aren't happy about the fry fracas in county schools, reports Albemarle junior Thomas Meert.