Healthy lunches are a tough sell, so school districts have to work at it
America didn’t become a nation of fatties overnight, or even over the course of a few years, and it’s going to take some time before people change the way they eat. That even goes for kids who are a captive audience in the school cafeteria.
A story surfaced this week about the Niskayuna school district deciding to abandon the National School Lunch Program because many of its students had stopped buying the fruit- and vegetable-laden lunches that conform to new government rules; and many of those who didn’t stop buying were simply throwing their fruits and vegetables away, thereby not getting enough to eat.
As a result of declining lunchroom sales, the district has lost $59,000 since the beginning of the current school year. According to a story in Thursday’s Gazette, the Voorheesville school district — faced with a similar experience — went the same route in December.
These school districts are unusual in the region in that they’re relatively well off, so very few of their students qualify for government-subsidized lunches and can bring their own from home if they don’t like the cafeteria menu. These school districts not only won’t miss the relatively small amount of money the feds were giving them, they’ll get more students buying lunches again when they reinstate their old menus. So they should actually do better financially going back to the old rules.
Poorer school districts, with higher percentages of students on free or reduced-price lunches, don’t really have this option because they can’t afford to pay for all the kids who can’t afford their own lunches.
A few questions: Are these school districts acting a little too hastily? Did they give the new menus enough time, and combine their implementation with increased nutrition education? (Such efforts have produced positive results in inner cities like Philadelphia’s, where obesity rates among children have been falling.)
In early December, the feds actually relaxed the new one-ounce limits on proteins and grains per meal, giving menu planners more flexibility in complying with the new calorie limits. That should be helpful for schools, enabling them to make a more gradual transition to healthy menus instead of forcing them to go “cold turkey.”
Anecdotal evidence around the country suggests that kids aren’t getting enough to eat under the new rules. But that’s undoubtedly because they’re throwing out their mandatory fruits and vegetables. The solution isn’t to abandon ship — at least not yet — but to work harder at getting kids to adapt to the change. It may be as important a lesson as they get in school, so it’s worth schools making the effort.
If a year or more goes by and the situation still hasn’t changed, perhaps additional rule tweaks by the feds would be justified.