Keystone Oaks, Chartiers Valley, Carlynton schools stick with federally-funded lunches
A U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that some school districts are dropping out of the federally funded school lunch program since newer, more strict guidelines were instituted last year.
But area schools are sticking with it.
More than 500 schools nationwide have dropped out of the program since healthier standards were added in 2012, according to the report released last week, but most of the nearly 100,000 schools in the program have stayed in it and have met or are working to meet those standards.
Area public schools have stayed put as well, though the new standards have forced districts to implement not just creative cooking, but marketing as well.
“We're not menuing the average foods anymore,” said Kevin Lloyd, director of dining services at Keystone Oaks. “We're offering things that were never traditionally offered in school lunches.”
The new guidelines took effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year and aim to combat childhood obesity levels.
The guidelines set new limits on caloric and sodium levels in school lunches and dictate schools add more whole grains. Lunches also must include at least a vegetable or fruit per meal.
The incentive for districts is federal dollars. Schools that participate in the program are subsidized the cost of the free- and reduced-lunch program. Dropping out means becoming ineligible for that reimbursement.
At Carlynton, which had a student population of 1,406 in 2012, nearly 50 percent of students were enrolled in the free- or reduced-lunch program. At Keystone Oaks, out of 1,876 students, nearly 31 percent were enrolled in the program in 2012. Thirty-eight percent of public school students in Allegheny County were enrolled in the program last year.
While area schools are sticking with the program, some are feeling a sting that comes with the increased costs.
“It absolutely costs us more,” said Courtney Gill, food services director at Chartiers Valley. “Whole-grain products, whether it's breads, pastas or rices — those all have a higher cost. Having to provide all the different subgroups of vegetables and more fresh fruits and vegetables is definitely a cost issue.”
Gill said ala carte sales are higher than in previous years as students choose food options outside of the federal guidelines. The ala carte sales make up for any drop in regular lunch sales, she said.
At Carlynton, the school board discussed the possibility of raising lunch prices to offset the cost of meeting the federal guidelines, but board directors ultimately decided against it. District spokeswoman Michale Herrmann said the district has never considered dropping the program.
Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.