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National School Lunch Program

Students take fruits and vegetables during lunch at Waterford High School, 100 Field Drive, on Thursday, March 20, 2014. Students are required to take the produce every day under the National School Lunch Program, but school officials say much of it ends up in the garbage. / Lindsay Bullock

This week, news that the Waterford Graded and Waterford High School districts opted to leave the National School Lunch Program brought to light new reasons why the federal nutrition mandates are problematic.

School officials said new federal requirements that food sold in schools must be healthier are going to result in too much waste and lost school revenue. Instead of spending thousands on food they know is going to be literally thrown in the garbage, the school is opting out of the program.

In recent years, the federal government has been slowly transitioning schools toward offering healthier alternatives. That includes more fruit and vegetables and whole-grain options.

If it was just a list of guidelines, it would be one thing. But under the new standards they are mandates.

According to a report in Monday’s Journal Times, requirements for the 2014-15 school year will be increased to limit sodium and require all grains be “whole-grain rich,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Additional changes also will put nutritional requirements on a la carte lunch-line items, and food and drinks sold in vending machines.

Waterford High School Superintendent Keith Brandstetter said those provisions would be especially problematic because it could mean the end of a coffee shop run by special education students because of the calories and sugars in specialty coffee drinks. That is truly over the top.

On a positive note, the government has made some changes to the rule that set a strict calorie limit on the total amount any child could eat. Kids, particularly athletes, were complaining they weren’t getting enough food and were left hungry after they couldn’t take an extra serving of meat or bread.

Luckily, that has been fixed, but more needs to be done.

Schools like Waterford are in a position where they are able to say no to federal funds because they don’t have a large percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. On the other hand, school districts such as Racine Unified, where 65 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, are not in a position where they can leave the lunch program.

Mary Dumont, resident district manager of Arbor Management, Unified’s food service provider, also spoke supportively of the new standards, saying: “If you put everything on the student’s tray that they are allowed to take with the school lunch program, it’s a wonderful meal ... it certainly would provide the nutrients and appetite satisfaction to get to the next meal.”

It’s true if students eat everything on their trays they shouldn’t be hungry, but more than likely the students are going to dump everything they don’t like, wasting school and taxpayer dollars.

There is a reason parents feed their children chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Kids like it and eat it and sometimes the best thing you can do is make sure they are consuming something so their stomachs are not growling throughout the afternoon.

The positive thing about Waterford’s decision is that it shows, at least for some districts, there is an alternative. Hopefully that sends a message to the federal government.


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