BOLIVIA, N.C. – Brunswick County Schools officials are realizing that free breakfasts and lunches served through the National School Lunch Program are very expensive.
By the district’s estimates, the “free” breakfast and lunches will cost about $500,000, WECT.com reports.
The free breakfast and lunch program was made possible by a provision in the Michelle Obama-championed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act called the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows school systems in low income areas to offer free meals for all.
But when Brunswick schools signed up, officials agreed to fund the difference between federal reimbursements for the meals and the actual costs of serving them. Those meals must comply with tightened federal restrictions on calories, fat, sugar, sodium, whole grains and other nutritional components, and as a result many students stopped eating at school.
The predicament has put the local school food program a half-million dollars in the red, and officials are now scrambling to find ways to shore up the losses, according to the news site.
“One of the things our child nutrition department is doing is looking at what foods children are more likely to eat in the cafeteria, and we’re going to be offering more of those foods and less of the ones that are typically second or third choices so we might see a reduction in the number of choices children have,” BCS spokeswoman Jessica Swencki told WECT.
The plan is to return to the old free and reduced priced lunches next year because giving the food away with the help of the federal government isn’t working.
It’s a similar situation in Wyoming’s Johnson County School District, where massive food waste tied to the new federal school lunch regulations is forcing officials to rethink their participation in the National School Lunch Program.
“JCSD had been on the national program for decades, primarily for the cost factor with federal participation reimbursements making up a significant portion of the school’s food service budget revenue,” The Buffalo Bulletin reports.
“But, with hungry and unhappy kids, doubt is starting to creep in about its worth.”
“It’s a nationwide issue that the federal guidelines have just made it difficult to make good, affordable food that children will eat,” JCSD business manager Eileen Bentley told the news site.
“Budget-wise it’s extremely difficult to break even with this program. But we’ve kind of taken a detour because the guidelines have created so many issues with children being hungry that we’ve been focusing right now on just finding ways to fill up the kids and stay within the guidelines.”
District food services director Sheridan Pierson said most vegetables and other greens students are forced to take as part of the federal restrictions end up in the garbage.
“Compared to the lunches we used to have, the variety just isn’t quite there, and that’s understandable with the different regulations on sodium and things like that, but I think it’s variety that we miss, and quantity too,” Buffalo High School senior Matt Scarlett told the Bulletin. “(Pierson) was very understanding with what we told her, and she worked really well with us to bring anything we can back. It’s affecting everybody.”
Pearson recently provided school board members with data on school lunches, including the program’s revenues and expenditures, as well as narration of the problems with the federal regulations. They’re not considering the benefits and drawbacks of dropping the National School Lunch Program as hundreds of districts across the country already have.
“I think the regulations have good intentions,” Bentley told the Bulletin. “I think they’re trying to go in a positive direction, and we’re trying to make those work.
“This would be a big decision, it wouldn’t be ours,” Bentley said of opting out of the federal program. “It would be the superintendent and the board and the community. We don’t have a deadline.
“We’re just hoping we can improve things and either we get to a point where people are happier with it, or we way, ‘Wow, here’s a good alternative.’”