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Independent lunch program allows for variety

•Trent Sprague

•Trent Sprague

Kayleigh Padar

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District 214 opted out of The National School Lunch Program in the spring of 2014, denying federal funding due to the strict restrictions the National School Lunch Act required. Since then, the district has been monitoring the lunch program to ensure that this was the right decision for students.

“I believe that people should be able to choose whatever food they want, so the cafeteria should keep all the options. They [students] are going to eat what they want anyway,” senior Breena Easterling said.

District employees originally made this decision due to the restrictions on what food was allowed to be sold. For example, according to the National School Lunch Act, school meals must contain 0 grams of trans fat. Fundraisers were also restricted in the program.

“There was good intention behind increasing the healthy components of our school lunch, they became so restrictive and extreme it had a reverse impact, it drove kids out of our lunch program,” principal Gordon Sisson said.

In addition, students would not be allowed to deny food in the lunch line. So, if students purchased an entree, they would have to receive the sides even if they didn’t plan on eating them.

Previously, when the district participated in the program, less students were purchasing lunch in the cafeteria.

“I think it [the National School Lunch Act] went too far, too fast. It was too rigid. Even though we have trained chefs that run our school kitchens, it was virtually impossible to comply and still have kids want to buy a lunch and once they bought it, not throw their food away,” Sisson said.

In order to receive the federal funding, the lunches had to be purchased by students, then the government would reimburse the cost of the meal. However, if the lunches weren’t sold, there is no reimbursement. According to the D214 Director of Food and Nutrition Christine Frole, nationally, school lunch participation is down over 1 million meals daily.

A Correspondent poll found that even with the variety of foods offered, 74 percent of students at our school do not purchase entree items with sides from the school cafeteria.

“Once every like, two months, I purchase snacks. I don’t purchase full lunches,” senior Shreya Ramnath said.

Although the district does not follow the federal guidelines for school lunches, the school offers healthier options alongside student favorites like cookies, chips, and soda.

“I usually buy chips and snack food once a month from the cafeteria,” sophomore Kailyn Joyce said.

Most of the items on the menu do not comply with federal guidelines, even if they’re still considered healthy. For example, the Fresh Fit menu includes items such as quinoa broth bowls, fresh fruit smoothies, and a roast beef carver station. Many of these items would not be allowed if we were in the funded National School Lunch Program.

“We increased palatability with a sharp eye towards nutritional value under our own judgments of what our students would want that’s still healthy for them,” Sisson said.

Students who do purchase lunch at school, enjoy the variety of options available to them. “I get free lunch, so I get whatever they have or if I don’t like what they have I get pizza and usually some type of juice and a bag of chips, maybe a cookie. It all depends on my mood,” Easterling said.

“I buy my lunch from the cafeteria everyday. I really like their mushroom soup,” freshman Sofia Koeppl said.

Although some students purchase food from the cafeteria often, the cafeteria sales have wavered. According to the D214 Associate Superintendent for Finance and Operations Cathy Johnson, the highest sales in the past five years were during the 2013-14 school year. The next year, the sales dropped, but have been steadily rising since. However, vending machine sales have increased each year since the 2013-14 school year.

Another argument for an independent program is that having a variety of foods on the menu will prepare students for real life, when they’ll have to make their own decisions about what they’re eating. “Our district sees high school graduation not as an endpoint so we have implemented a more collegiate menu as we prepare our students for their future where they have many choices,” D214 Director of Food and Nutrition Services Christine Frole said.

Not all students agree with this idea. Some would prefer less temptation in the lunch line. “Unhealthy items are very tempting to buy, that’s why I get them once or twice a week. I always tell myself not to, but I end up buying them anyway,” Koeppl said.

A Correspondent poll found that 36 percent of students purchase some form of “junk” food multiple times a week, which provides revenue for the district.

“I wouldn’t buy anything I don’t like from the cafeteria. If they got rid of some options I’d probably just buy whatever drink they have,” Easterling said.

The district has been monitoring this program for student participation and satisfaction by sending out annual survey links to gain feedback from students. Students can help in this process by responding to the survey with honest comments and suggestions.

“District 214 is committed to serving our students nutritious meals and snacks while maintaining the variety to keep them satisfied,” Frole said.

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