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Lunch Programs get a red light from Schools

Schools began to say no to Healthy Lunch Programs subsidized by Federal Government

Schools around the country have started saying no to the $11 billion National School Lunch Program. According to the Associated Press, kids from districts throughout the United States have started rejecting the lunches, which are made with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Although the Federal Government reports the schools that have dropped the program are “isolated,” the truth is many schools are losing money. Schools report that even though the Federal Government was offering subsidies to serve the healthier lunch options, they were still losing money.

Kids thought the meals were so bad they often would either skip the meal altogether or bring food from home. According to one Superintendent, his school had an estimated 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year. Another school in upstate New York also reported they had to quit the program after they lost $100,000. Other schools report they didn’t even make it three months in the new program because there were so many complaints.

Experts note “approximately 31 million students participated in the guidelines that took effect last fall under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

Problems with Healthier Lunch Options

It’s not just the money lost that concerns many school officials. Officials also note that many kids will simply refuse to eat and hunger can often lead to a lack of attentiveness and bad behavior. Other school officials noted it was hard to see all the food go to waste. Many complained of trays of pears, apples, salads and other foods simply finding its way into the trash.

So what happens when a school leaves the program? Districts who do not take federal subsidies are free to make their own menus and develop their own nutritional guidelines. For many school districts this will mean a return to salad topped with flank steak and crumbled cheese, pasta with chicken and mushrooms, and a panini with chicken, red peppers and cheese. Other schools will bring back hamburgers and fish sticks.

What does the Government think?

Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which oversees the program is not concerned.  "The vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our nation's children lead healthier lives," Thornton said.

Her claim is that because many of these children do not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables there is going to be a period of adjustment for them to adapt. She also notes that more schools have threatened to drop out than have actually pulled the plug on the new program.

There are also some schools that may want to drop out of the program but cannot due to the governmental reimbursements. For instance, the National School Lunch Program reimburses about $2.50 to $3 for free and reduced-priced meals and about 30 cents for full-price meals. What does this mean for the kids? Get used to the broccoli; it’s here to stay.
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