Why one Montana school is ditching Obama’s school lunch program

After years of schools having to comply with First Lady Michelle Obama’s school lunch programs, which severely restrict animal proteins and dairy foods, many schools are choosing to opt out and forgo federal funding in order to serve lunches that kids will actually eat.

With the reform of school lunches, parents shared their concerns that their students weren’t being offered enough protein to fuel their days. Even more troubling, for the students who qualify for free or reduced meals, the breakfast and lunch they eat at school are quite possibly the only nutritious, filling meals they get during the day. In fact, 72% of students participating in school lunch programs do so at a reduced or free rate as more affluent students are opting to eat off campus.

It’s quite unfortunate that politics and misinformed ideals about food, the environment and sustainability have led to a situation where our nation’s students are the ones who are suffering.

For the 2015-16 school year, school board members at Montana’s Bozeman High School voted to opt out of the school lunch programs, resulting in a loss of $117,000 in federal funding. However after ending the previous school year $16,000 in the red because many students chose to eat off campus, the school had little choice but to try something different. The contrast between this school year and the previous one is night and day.

Victor Skinner for EAG News says the Bozeman school system now feeds 1,000 meals each day and has already taken in $54,000 in food sales — a 48% jump from the $37,000 in foods sold last year.

Photo Credit: USDA

Skinner writes, “Across the district, the food service program is $1,441 in the black so far for the 2015-16 school year. The food service budget ended last school year $16,000 in the red, which is unacceptable in a school district that relies on the program to be self-supporting, says Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent. And school food service workers told board members students are now getting high quality food from local sources, rather than pre-packaged meals promoted by the government.”

According to the article, approximately 55% of foods are made from scratch in the Bozeman school kitchens, which is a rare thing when most of the nation’s school lunch programs rely on pre-packaged food. In Bozeman, beef is purchased from a local rancher, and even the honey mustard is made from scratch, using 25 gallons of locally-raised honey in each batch.

I have no doubt that the reformed school lunch programs aim to provide nutritious food to fuel kids and fight childhood obesity; however, if the students aren’t eating the meals and the majority of the food ends up in the trash, we need to look at reducing sales of sugary snacks and syrupy sodas, and focus on serving rich, wholesome food like meat and dairy, along with fruits and vegetables to nourish our nation’s students. They deserve better, and I applaud the Bozeman school district for making the wise choice to serve higher-quality foods to its students.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

 

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