Two Indiana school systems whose staff complained about wasted money and hungry students under school lunch guidelines championed by first lady Michelle Obama say they aren't going to drop the federal program that subsidizes the meals.
"Although there are strong feelings by our staff that many of the offerings in the new lunch program are not accepted by our students, resulting in a lot of wasted and thrown away food, we will not be withdrawing from the National School Lunch Program," North White School Corporation Superintendent Nick Eccles told U.S. News.
"District wide, we have about 70 percent free and reduced lunch and in one building, it is pushing 80 percent," Eccles noted. "If we are not part of the National School Lunch Program, these children would not get free or reduced lunches and North White would not get reimbursed for these students' lunches. We also would forfeit our opportunity for commodities."
Likewise, Tippecanoe School Corporation Superintendent Scott Hanback told U.S. News his system "is not considering any such withdrawal from the National School Lunch Program."
In an article published last week by The Lafayette Journal & Courier, staff at the two school systems offered a frank appraisal of the healthier lunch options mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
"I've had a lot of complaints, especially with the little guys," North White School Corp. food service director Linda Wireman said. "They get a three-quarters cup of vegetables, but if it's something they don't like, it goes down the garbage disposal. So there are a lot of complaints they're going home hungry."
Tippecanoe School Corp. food service director Lori Shofroth said: "We did a waste study on three different schools, and there was a huge amount of waste. That was just with produce, fruit or vegetables or milk."
Shofroth said the school system lost an estimated $300,000 in wasted food. "They're teaching our kids with this meal pattern that it's OK to throw away," she complained to the local paper.
At least two school districts have decided to drop the National School Lunch Program in response to the new food guidelines that took effect in 2012.
The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school district near Albany, N.Y., will leave the national program in September, following a vote announced July 1 by the district's school board. A study by the district estimated a $100,000 loss in income because of lower demand in the past year.
Just nine percent of the New York school system's students qualify for subsidized lunch, and the kids will still receive the deal, with a 25 cent increase in the price of lunch.
"You can offer nutritious, healthy foods, but you can't make kids eat them or like them," the school system said in a press release. "There were just too many problems and too many foods that students did not like and would not purchase," Assistant Superintendent Chris Abdoo said in the release. "Students complained of being hungry with these lunches and the district lost money."
Earlier this year the Catlin School District in east central Illinois also decided to pull out of the federal program.
"When the federal government changed the nutrition guidelines, they became very restrictive," Superintendent Gary Lewis told the local News-Gazette in June. "If a kid is hungry, they're not going to be able to concentrate in class. We need to work to make sure they're full. That will increase their potential."
Catlin is raising its prices slightly to compensate for the loss of federal assistance. Elementary and middle school students will pay 10 cents more for lunch and high school meals will cost a quarter more.
An administration official who spoke on background with U.S. News characterized the dissent as a drop in the bucket, but acknowledged that some schools face a difficult adjustment after not updating their offerings in decades. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the official noted, made some policy changes to allow flexibility for schools worried about making sandwiches with one piece of bread, among other culinary dilemmas, by allowing protein and grain servings to average out over a week.
Any major change attracts detractors, but the healthier options may lead to enormous change as current elementary school students grow into adults with a taste for vegetables, fruits and balanced portions, the official said.