School District Quits Fed Lunch Program: 'Kids Won't Eat That'

Sunday, 10 Aug 2014 09:07 PM

By Greg Richter

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A Kentucky school district is opting out of the federal school lunch program because it says students don't like the meals required under new guidelines, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

"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 Gene Kirchner, superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools.

More schools are opting out of the program, which requires use of whole grains breads and low-fat or no-fat dairy products among other things. First lady Michelle Obama championed the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act as part of the national fight against childhood obesity.

But school districts are seeing children throw more food in the garbage. Worse for school districts: Some students are bringing their own lunches, eating at nearby fast-food restaurants or skipping lunch altogether.

That loss of students taking part in the school lunch program means less money for their school districts at the same time that the districts are having to pay more for the more healthful food required by the law.

It has put richer districts such as Fort Thomas in the position of giving up federal dollars and footing the bill itself. With a low 17 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, the district can afford to pay for those meals itself.

Kirchner said healthful meals still will be served.

Poorer districts don't have the same option.

Cincinnati Public Schools Food Service Director Jessica Shelly is over a district with about 74 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.

"I get $1.8 million a month in [federal] reimbursement," Shelly told the Enquirer, "so there's no way I could operate this without the federal government."

The Lakota school district, in Butler County, Ohio, has fewer than 20 percent of students on free or reduced-price meals and has considered dropping the program for years, Food Service Director Chris Burkhardt told the newspaper.

"I think the standards are absolutely a good thing," Burkhardt said. "They address childhood obesity. My biggest regret is that they weren't phased in over time."

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