LAKEWOOD, Colo – School officials in Jefferson County, Colorado felt like they had to do something to save the school’s lunch program after a significant drop in participation last year because of new federal regulations championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
So, they’re bribing kids to buy lunch.
Devinny Elementary School first grader Anna Ketzer was one of three students who won a brand new bicycle, 9News.com reports.
“I was very excited to hear that,” she told the news station, adding that she gets her food from the cafeteria because “I don’t have to make my lunch.”
Her prize comes from Jeffco Public Schools’ new “Hungry to Win” raffle for students who buy their lunch at school. After a 6 percent decline in lunch sales last year, district officials came up with the promotion to bring students back to the lunch room. With each lunch they buy, students are entered to win a range of prizes, from jump ropes, kites, iTunes gift cards or movie tickets, to grand prizes like bicycles and iPods, according to the news site.
“With all the new regulations and the changes that we’ve made, our lunch participation has gone down,” lunch facilitator Lori Burris told 9News. “So, this was to be an incentive to try school lunch and bring them back.”
Across the country, students are revolting against federal restrictions on calories, sodium, fat, sugar, whole grain, and other nutritional elements of school lunches by bringing their own food from home. Recent reports show more than 1 million students no longer buy food from the cafeteria, and requirements that they take a fruit or vegetable, whether they want it or not, has created more than $1 billion in food waste since the regulations went into effect in 2012.
The school lunch overhaul, which was implemented through the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act and forced on schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, has resulted in record lunch revenue losses in some schools, prompting hundreds to drop out of the program and forfeit their federal subsidies to serve students food they’ll actually eat.
A new federal budget bill could allow schools that have lost the most revenue to apply for waivers from some of the standards, despite efforts by Michelle Obama to prevent the changes to her pet project.
Jeffco’s Burris said students are not big fans of the “healthier” lunches, so they had to find a way to convince kids to eat it.
“We think it’s because they don’t necessarily like some of the new changes that we’ve had to make,” she said.
Burris believes students might actually like the cafeteria’s new offerings once they’ve ate enough of it.
“They’re used to something a little different,” she said. “So, we wanted to encourage them to come back and try it and show them it really tastes good. It’s just a bit different.”
Burris told 9News lunch sales have increased 4 percent since they launched “Hungry to Win.”
Several parents who commented on the 9News story were clearly not impressed with the raffle idea.
“This is amazing! Jeffco is teaching our kids how to gamble! Not just gamble, but to gamble to eat. Is the next field trip to Las Vegas so we can teach them how to live on the streets after they don’t win? ‘Hey, buy our food and you could win a bike!’ or ‘Hey, play our slots and you could win a car!’ What’s the difference?” J.J. Howe posted to Facebook.
Eric Prieve believes the contest is “one of many reasons we need the federal government out of local affairs.
“Let the PTA set the menu that they want their kids to eat,” he posted. “Boot Moochelle out of your kid’s diets.”
Kevin Snyder seemed to agree.
“Problem: Food is bad. Result: Sales are down,” he wrote. “Solution: Well, it’s not the one you’re thinking, folks.”