Schools continue to report that federal school lunch regulations are driving students from the lunch line and even causing some to just throw their lunch in the garbage.
“They’re just skipping lunch and stopping by the minimart on the way home instead,” said Gene Kirchner, superintendent of Kentucky’s Fort Thomas Independent School District. “And when they do buy a lunch, they go by the trash can and throw half of it away.”
Kirchner told Bloomberg Businessweek that since his school district began phasing in school lunch nutrition requirements championed by first lady Michelle Obama he has noticed a dramatic drop in sales. Last year Fort Thomas sold 30,000 fewer meals than the previous school year.
A report from the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, suggests that Kirchner’s experience is not unique.
A story from the Washington Times reports that the GAO study found that as many as a million students nationwide have opted out of eating school lunches since the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards went into effect.
The healthy food standards brought “negative student reactions” according to the study.
The survey found that in each district, “students expressed dislike for certain foods that were served to comply with the new requirements, such as whole grain-rich products and vegetables in the beans and peas (legumes) and red-orange sub-groups, and this may have affected participation.”
The GAO, like Kirchner, cited food waste as among the problems encountered by districts under the new rules.
“Students may take the food components they are required to as part of the school lunch but then choose not to eat them,” the GAO study said. School districts in 48 out of 50 states cited waste as a challenge.
Julia Bauscher, director of nutrition services for the public schools of Louisville, Kentucky, said the new standards are too stringent and don’t allow her the flexibility to create meals students will eat.
“I currently have one lunch entree that meets the a la carte requirements: grilled chicken breast on a whole-grain bun,” she said. “But I can’t serve condiments with it. How many kids are going to eat grilled chicken with absolutely nothing on it?”
Bauscher is also president of the School Nutrition Association, or SNA, an organization that once supported Obama’s healthy eating initiative. Now the organization wants the rules to be eased.
"Our request for flexibility under the new standards does not come from industry or politics, it comes from thousands of school cafeteria professionals who have shown how these overly prescriptive regulations are hindering their effort to get students to eat healthy school meals,” Leah Schmidt, president of the SNA, told The Associated Press in May.
Donna Martin, school nutrition director of Georgia’s Burke County School District, said the complaining about the new meals is overblown. She believes the students will soon adapt to the new standards.
“Whenever you change something, the kids complain, ‘We’re not eating this!’ ” she said. “But they get over it. You just have to give them time.”