KY school district drops federal lunch program
There are a lot of smiling young faces in the Fort Thomas, KY school district. Officials have decided to forgo federal school lunch dollars and have opted out of the program.
Lunch at Fort Thomas Independent Schools may include more French fries, fewer vegetables and larger portions this year. One thing that won't be on the menu: federal dollars.
The Campbell County, Ky., district is opting out of the federal school lunch program, forfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding.
The reason: Kids didn't like their healthful lunches.
"The calorie limitations and types of foods that have to be provided ... have resulted in the kids just saying 'I'm not going to eat that,' " said Fort Thomas Superintendent Gene Kirchner.
The 2,800-student district joins a small but growing number of school districts across the country — mostly wealthy districts that can afford to forfeit the money — that have dropped out of the federal program in the wake of stricter nutritional standards.
Schools said students don't like the unsalted potatoes, low-fat cheese or the mandatory fruits and vegetables. They throw food away or decide not to eat at all.
In Kirchner's district, 166 fewer students bought lunch every day last year — 30,000 fewer a year. Instead they brought lunch from home, went to nearby restaurants or skipped lunch altogether.
That's a problem because students were going hungry or choosing unhealthful fast food or snacks instead of school meals.
It's also a financial problem for the district. If kids don't buy lunch, the district loses money and has to dig into its general fund.
Money that could pay for textbooks and technology must be redirected to pay for green beans and whole-grain hot dog buns.
It simply wasn't economically feasible anymore, Kirchner said. "The program is heading in the wrong direction," he said.
Fort Thomas is not alone. Nationwide, it's estimated that one million fewer students are buying lunch each day:
Last year, it said, 47% of school meal programs reported that their overall revenues had declined — and when kids don't buy school lunches, the district loses money.
It's unclear how many schools or districts have dropped the program because of the new nutrition guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number is small. Its blog post in September 2013 said only 146 of the schools surveyed, or 0.15%, had left the program because they wouldn't comply with the new standards.
"But we've seen a lot more schools pop up," said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association. "I've seen stories out of New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania." She thinks the number will increase this year as the standards expand to include "a la carte" items at school snack bars, which are often money-makers for schools.
What possessed Michell Obama and the rest of the food nannies to believe that children would eat "healthy" foods at school that they normally reject at home? I suppose the next step is to forcefeed children food that's good for them, but I'm doubting that would work any better.
Schools, working in conjunction with parents - not Washington - should be developing more nutritous alternatives for kids. How about government spending money on programs like that, rather than giving kids unpalatable foods for lunch.