Ky. district drops fruits, veggies, federal lunch program
FORT THOMAS, Ky. — 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 in federal funding.
The reason: Kids didn't like their healthy 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,' ” Fort Thomas Superintendent Gene Kirchner said.
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 because of stricter nutritional standards.
Schools said students don't like the unsalted potatoes, low-fat cheese or 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 unhealthy 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.
So his school board opted out.
Children who get free or reduced-price lunches — about 17 percent of the student body — will still get them at that price.
Only now, the school district will absorb the cost — more than $260,000 a year.
Schools throughout the nation are grappling with the same decision.
Nationwide, 1 million fewer students are choosing a school lunch each day, according to the national School Nutrition Association.
Last year, it said, 47 percent 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 Department of Agriculture says the number is small. Its blog post in September 2013 said only 146 of the schools surveyed, or 0.15 percent, 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.
Andi Sempier, the mother of a third-grade student at Fort Thomas' Woodfill Elementary school, said she's glad the district did away with the standards.
“I'm lucky my daughter will eat her vegetables. But it was very wasteful from what I've seen from being in the cafeteria,” she said.