NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – Trustees of New Paltz schools are so desperate to control waste tied to new federal food regulations they may look into ways to force students to eat their fruits and veggies.
District trustees are grappling with an added $105,000 in annual food costs to comply with federal school lunch regulations championed by first lady Michelle Obama. They passed a resolution last week denouncing the “elimination of local autonomy in the management of the District’s school nutrition program” as lawmakers in Washington, D.C. mulled the reauthorization of the National School Lunch Program.
In New Paltz, like many other areas across the U.S., students are simply dumping their greens in the garbage.
“We’re the ones here and our cafeteria staff that are observing what our kids do,” trustee Steven Greenfield said, according to the Daily Freeman.
“We can get feedback from parents into what we might be able to say … differently to actually (compel the students to) eat it instead of throwing it away – or maybe just stick it in their pockets and take it home with them instead of throwing it in the trash,” he said.
The New Paltz board far from alone in their dilemma, as more than 570 schools have already dropped out of the National School Lunch Program after students stopped eating lunch at school. A 2014 School Nutrition Association report cited by New Paltz trustees during a recent meeting shows the particular federal mandate that all students take a fruit or vegetable, whether they want it or not, increased waste by 100 percent nationwide – $3.8 million in produce daily, according to the news site.
“What we’re asking for is local autonomy to tweak the standards because we’re essentially wasting food and wasting money,” trustee Timothy Rogers said.
Other school districts across the country are dealing with the same problem, in different ways.
In one Vermont school district, officials devised a plan to “repurpose” their lunch waste as feed for about 3,000 hogs at a local pig farm.
More recently, in Haywood County, North Carolina, district officials sought and received a waiver from some of the federal restrictions.
About 5 percent fewer students there are eating school meals since the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act – tightened restrictions on calories, fat, sugar, sodium, whole wheat, and other nutritional factors – went into effect in 2012, ABC News 13 reports.
We were just granted a waiver to offer 50 percent of our bread offerings could be white versus the whole grain. Right now it’s 100 percent. But this waiver will allow us to go to 50 percent,” Haywood County school food services director Alison Francis said.
In North Carolina, it’s apparently not permissible to cast leftovers to livestock, which means that while Haywood schools may now be able to convince more students to eat lunch, they’re still left to deal with massive produce waste.
“We have to force them to take a fruit and vegetable now which we didn’t have to before. They’re not eating it,” Francis told ABC News 13. “We’re seeing it go into the trash can. We’re not allowed to give it to say a farmer…a local farmer to use for animals or things like that.”
Their only hope to fix things is further blessings from D.C.
“So we’re hoping that the federal government will hear our cry for help and give us a little bit more flexibility in the future,” Francis said.
Haywood County superintendent Bill Nolte offered an even better idea.
“Let’s leave food solutions to parents and let’s not try to manage that from Washington,” he told ABC News 13.