July 9 2013
Opting Out of Federal School Lunches
Vicki E. Alger
Superintendent Gary Lewis of Illinois’ Catlin school district is at your service taking lunch orders for the upcoming school year. Federal school lunch regulations adopted last year have become so onerous, narrow, and well, yucky, that parents and school officials have decided to opt out and start their own program. As the News Gazette reported:
Superintendent Gary Lewis said close to 120 people have already responded to a lunch survey that was posted on the district's website…
‘We're going to have the freedom to do more stuff with our own program, and we want to give people options,’ Lewis said…
School officials decided to pull out of the National School Lunch Program earlier this spring, after seeing a decline in the number of meals that were served and too much food going into the garbage last year.
‘When the federal government changed the nutrition guidelines, they became very restrictive,’ said Lewis, who heard numerous complaints from students and parents about the new food offerings.
‘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. …We had to not only offer vegetables but vegetables of a certain color, and we had to offer them so many times a week,’ Lewis said, adding it was difficult to meet the guidelines with selections the kids would eat. ‘I will eat kale. But if I tried to get my 11- and 7-year-old to eat kale, they will look at me like, What are you putting on my plate?’
The stricter guidelines also set new minimum and, for the first time, maximum calorie limits for students, based on age, to ensure proper portion size. The maximum daily intake is 650 calories a day for K-5 students, 700 for sixth- through eighth-graders and 850 for high school students.
But in Lewis' opinion, that wasn't enough for older students.
‘They were going away hungry. We feel like if a high school kid needs more, we can provide them with a little more,’ the superintendent said, adding local officials decided not to renew its application to the national program this year after doing a cost analysis on an in-house program. …
‘We did some studies that showed it would take us about 83 days into the year to make up what we were being reimbursed from the federal government,’ Lewis said, adding the food service program lost money over the last three years. ‘We don't want to make money on it, but we want to break even, which will be a big plus.’
So will giving parents and their children more freedom over what they eat.