New health rules for school lunches have been hailed by the White House and championed by first lady Michelle Obama but they're creating financial havoc, with cafeteria workers losing their jobs or work hours and food going to waste, a new survey shows.
by the School Nutritional Association reports nearly seven of every 10 respondents say the strict health standards begun in 2012
have been harmful to their program’s financial health — and 80 percent of districts have had to take harsh steps to offset their financial losses.
Forty-eight percent of school districts said they reduced staffing by reducing hours, imposing layoffs or deferring hiring. About 41 percent of districts said they cut their reserve fund to cope, over 35 percent said they chipped away at menu choices, and about 32 percent deferred or canceled equipment investments.
At the heart of the problem, the survey finds, is that kids don't like the food.
"Enough already," one association member writes of the strict rules, according to the report. "A lot of damage has been done. Now, every group in our high school has taken on the sale of all kinds of things. Classroom pizza parties are everywhere and often. The intention may have been honorable; the results are not."
According to the report, there's a "strong consensus as to the leading reason for the decline in lunch [average daily participation]: decreased student acceptance of meals," noting that reason cited by nearly 93 percent of the districts that had a dip in the numbers of children eating school lunches.
The survey also finds high on the list of pressures squeezing a lunch program's bottom line is "increased per meal food costs," a factor cited by 70 percent.
The first lady has lobbied for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which set new standards for school food, but the School Nutrition Association, which first supported the law, has since said
the regulations it spawned are too rigid.
The survey included comments from food service directors across the country about their personal hardships trying to meet the standards.
"School Nutrition Directors are not magicians," one writes, according to the report. "We strive to meet the nutritional needs of students, while balancing a budget and [are] required to meet regulations that are not student preferences. It is not nutrition unless the students consume it. We are wasting too much food, because it must be served and it is not consumed.
"We had a fund balance of $500,000," another writes. "It is now gone. Student acceptance is a serious issue."
"The costs associated with these changes have taken a huge toll on our ability to purchase equipment or expand our offerings," still another writes. "We have been limited to hire positions needed for our program due to lack of funding. Students are very intolerant of-mediocre tasting products due to decrease of sodium and requirement to use whole grains."
The association said it got responses to its survey from 1,100 district-level employees, mostly district directors, representing 1,100 different school districts nationwide.
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