South Fayette High School backs out of federal lunch program
South Fayette High School will opt out of the federal School Lunch and Breakfast Program — and in turn, federal funding — due to concerns over stricter nutritional guidelines.
The guidelines, which took effect July 1, would place a burden on the high school cafeteria, food service director Tricia Wood said. The cafeteria contains a food court with a la carte options and stations, such as a deli bar and soup and salad bar.
“Our menu will stay the same as it was last year,” Wood said. “This is not a step down from what we have done in the past.”
By opting out, the high school will not receive federal reimbursement for free and reduced lunches and breakfasts. The elementary, intermediate and middle schools will remain enrolled in the program.
The high school serves about 10,000 free and reduced lunches a year, Wood said, but with a la carte sales reaching nearly $400,000 each year, the benefits outweigh the costs.
“Would we rather lose a little reimbursement, or would we rather lose the bigger chunk of that $400,000?” Wood said.
Numbers for the school's breakfast program were not immediately available.
Schools receive a reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each lunch served — $2.93 for each free lunch and $2.53 for each reduced-price lunch. They receive 28 cents for each paid lunch.
Out of the district's 759 high school students, 74 were eligible for free lunch and 11 for reduced lunch in 2013-14, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Those students will still get free and reduced-price meals; but the school will not receive reimbursement.
The guidelines, called Smart Snacks in Schools, are part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The rules target food sold outside of the school's meal program, including a la carte, snack bar and vending machine items.
The mandate means that by the upcoming school year, whole-grain products must be used, schools must offer a full cup of fruits or vegetables at breakfast and foods must meet certain calorie and sodium targets.
A la carte snack items and side dishes would have to contain less than 230 milligrams of sodium per item and fewer than 200 calories per item. Entrée items sold ala carte must have less than 480 milligrams of sodium and be under 350 calories.
“How do we go back to having little individual cups when where we are is leaps and bounds ahead?” Wood said.
School officials also worried that having to monitor calorie and sodium counts would discourage students from buying school food products.
“I don't want our kids to do that,” Wood said. “I don't want to see us on the news.”
Board member Jennifer Iriti said the school should continue promoting healthy choices regardless of participation in the national program.
“The federal regulations are grounded in health standards,” she said. “So there's a good reason they're there, even if enacting them is problematic. I would like to see us have a plan for, if we do step away, actively shaping children's food choices in the cafeteria.”
Wood said opting out would not change the health standards in the cafeteria. She pointed out that each food station has a binder containing the nutritional information for each food item.
“If they're there toasting a bagel, they can see what's in it,” she said. “Every station has one, because I thought, ‘How can we be proactive?' It's their right to know – we need to put that out there, and we need to be proactive.”
Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.