A number of school districts across the country are choosing to opt out of the federally funded meal program in an effort to put a stop to the cost of food waste that has resulted from First Lady Michelle Obama’s National School Lunch Program.
In New York, Greater Johnstown School District superintendent Robert DeLilli said the program had increased the budget deficit for the district, causing area schools to look for a source of less costly food. “It’s kind of like a pilot to see how it works,” DeLilli said. “We’ll wait and see how it goes.”
Across the country, 1.2 million students have dropped out of the program since it was implemented in 2012. The students who are still receiving lunch from the program continue throw out their food, causing food waste totaling $1 billion, writes Thomas Novelly for The Washington Free Beacon.
In Denver, Colorado, school administrators sampled a meal offered to students at lunch at Kepner Middle School after a student posted a complaint on Chalkbeat.org. School board member Rosemary Rodriguez and health justice organizer Monica Acosta were offered a cold chicken patty on a burnt roll, frozen strawberries and an unripe pear.
Since that time, the staff at Kepner have made a variety of changes, including thawing the fruit and offering fresh milk in place of expired fare.
Some districts in Minnesota are also choosing to withdraw from the program in order to develop their own program that allows them to serve a larger variety of foods, which could include higher-calorie items. Prior Lake High School became the third school in the state to do so after a petition circulated through the student body, reports Erin Adler for The Star Tribune.
“Mainly our students have told us they are interested in portion sizes that better meet their needs,” said Janeen Peterson, food services director in the Prior Lake-Savage district. “The school lunch program is not meant to meet the needs of very active students.”
The decision will cost the district at least $170,000 in state and federal funding during the trial run next year. Federal funding is lost when a school chooses to opt out of the nutrition requirements, causing only schools with few low-income students to be able to do so, as those schools would need to find a way to cover the cost of school lunches for those who would have been eligible for the free or reduced price lunch program.
Schools in Connecticut are opting to do the same, with Greenwich High School becoming the most recent addition, as school board members once again refused to accept almost $150,000 in federal funding. According to school officials, the funding loss is less than the amount it would cost them if they followed the regulations implemented by the US Department of Agriculture as a part of the program, which affects the school’s a la carte menu.
School officials report that around 95% of food sales at the school came from purchases from the a la carte menu, which created $1.3 million in revenue last year. Multiple offerings on that menu, including deli sandwiches and muffins, would not meet the fat restrictions laid out in the new rules.
“We know that we are foregoing about $149,000 in reimbursables from opting out Greenwich High School from the National School Lunch Program,” said board member Laura Erickson. “But what we are doing is protecting, we believe, the unknown loss in revenue from a la carte purchases at Greenwich High.”