BUFFALO, NY- Your children will see more fruits and veggies and less fat on their lunch tray next year thanks to new federal rules. But some of those rules aren't sitting well with school districts facing tight budgets.
Cheektowaga-Sloan School District Food Service Director Mary Brucz says the changes won't just be difficult for the kids, they'll also be difficult for the district. It's all happening because Wednesday the USDA announced strict new rules for school lunches-- doubling the daily servings of fruit and vegetables, restricting milk offerings to fat-free and low-fat, limiting calories based on age and increasing the amount of whole grains, among other things. Brusz says all of those changes cost more. "If I do a white roll its 11 or 12 cents. If I do a whole wheat or a whole grain roll it's twice that price."
To support the changes, schools will receive another 6 cents per meal in federal funding, but Brucz says is not enough. "I'm worried about my staff and their livelihood and being able to get the food in and get it in at a decent price. I'm worried about my budget. But I'm also worried about the students who say I won't eat that and walk out of the cafeteria hungry." The food service directors at Williamsville and West Seneca school districts also told 2 On Your Side they agreed the funding may not be adequate.
The added costs could trickle down to families who may have to more for school lunches. "It's something that we don't want to do and I'm hoping I don't have to do it because this is an area where a lot of people have lost their jobs," Brucz added. "It's just really hard and I'm concerned about that."
They plan now to educate the children about nutrition, saying if they're not eating, they're not going to succeed. They also plan to look for healthier recipes for popular menu items.
"It's going to be hard, it's going to be very hard. But we're going to have to persevere because we have to feed our students," says Brucz.
The Ken-Ton school district has been a local leader in healthy lunches for years. The students eat whole wheat pizza, turkey hotdogs, and even fudgsicles for dessert- foods they enjoy, but that are healthy at the same time.
The district has "voluntarily" been meeting guidelines for something called the Healthier US School Challenge. The new mandatory USDA guidelines mirror them, and the district doesn't really have to change anything to meet them, meaning Ken-Ton will get 6 cents per lunch-served without having to spend more.
So what will the district do with the funds? "Well because we're a self-sustaining program that six cents will actually help offset the cost of the extra fruits and vegetables that we've already added into our meal program. So it will help us with our bottom line to help us meet those needs for the students," says Ken-Ton Food Service Director Kim Roll.
The guidelines take effect in July, but clearly the real test will come in September when the kids head back to school and have to decide for themselves if they're going to eat these healthy options. The school food service directors say they really need help from the teachers and certainly from the parents at home to make this work.