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District looking to spice up Bay school lunch sales

By Jeff Gallatin


District officials are again working to find the right recipe for a successful school lunch program, saying recently instituted federal nutrition guidelines have caused revenues to go down and costs to go up.

Superintendent Clint Keener said the stricter nutrition guidelines from the National School Lunch Program on what is served, which took effect this school year, have led to students purchasing fewer lunches and apparently eating less as well. Because the district currently participates in the program to gain assistance with the free and reduced lunch program for students from families with lower incomes, the district lunches must adhere to the nutrition guidelines, which require higher use levels to be met in different food groups.

The school board heard a presentation on the situation at its March 11 meeting, with Keener telling the board he would do additional research on the topic after members expressed concern about the negative change in the district lunch program finances.

“Right now, the students just aren’t going for it,” Keener said. “Our revenues are down $75,000 from last year and our costs for putting the lunches (out) are up $30,000.”

With students buying less, having the costs go up for preparing and producing the lunches does not help.

“We’re having to spend more time preparing the foods and getting the specific sizes ready,” he said, “so it’s not a case where we can say, ‘OK, revenues are down, cut the staff. We still need the staff to serve it and because the costs and time to prepare it have gone up, we still need people there as well.”

Keener said the school lunch program was in the black for the last several years before the new guidelines took effect.

“What that means is that if the trend continues, we would have to subsidize the program out of the district’s general fund, which is something we haven’t done traditionally and really would rather not do.”

Keener said district officials are looking for causes as well as what might entice students into buying more food again.

“We’ve asked lunch program officials to monitor and determine what is being eaten and what is being thrown away,” Keener said.

He noted, for example, that students are buying certain a la carte items, but said even previously more popular items such as pizza have gone down.

“With that, it appears that the whole-wheat crust is having an effect, since purchases of it are down as well,” he said.

He said the district also has indicators that new portion sizes also are taking a bite out of the revenues.

“One example is the two-ounce burger,” he said. “That’s not big at all. And when you’re talking about teenagers, and in many cases they’re athletes or into other activities, they want more because they’re burning off a lot of calories and energy.”

Keener said the district is involving students in the issues, asking student councils to help gather input on student preferences.

At the school board meeting, board members expressed frustration about the issue, and board member Amy Huntley was pointed in her criticism of the changes in the program.

“It’s just another example of the federal officials not being in touch with what goes on with people,” she said.

Huntley advocated having the district set up its own lunch program and move away from the guidelines.

“I’ll bet we get kids to buy more lunches again,” she said.

Keener said Thursday he had found other districts that had decided not to use the federal program.

“You can do that, but then we would not be eligible for the assistance for the free and reduced lunch program, as well as the federal programs for buying specific foods,” he said. “You can only use so many green beans, for example, but the problem is, using the buying program allows you to reduce costs. In some cases, it costs $2 per case in a bulk buy from the program and $15 if you do it on your own. So, you would lose money in those areas if you switch out. It might just be a wash financially, if you go out of the program.”

Keener noted that a few years ago when the district switched away from largely fried foods, consumption dropped then as well.

“We went down, but eventually students came to accept the baked french fries, for example,” he said. “We will come up with some options for the board to consider, but if we do set up our own program, we will have nutrition guidelines of some sort in effect.”



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