SARTELL, Minn. – There’s a sign in the lunchroom of Minnesota’s Sartell High School: Students can choose two packets of barbecue sauce, or three ketchup packets, or two ketchups and a mustard, or just one packet of mayonnaise.
The new condiment quotas are the product of new federal regulations that strictly limit calories, fat, sodium, sugar and most other nutritional elements of school snacks and lunch foods.
The rules, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as a means to combat childhood obesity, are part of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The measure, implemented in phases since 2012, overhauled the National School Lunch Program to force schools that receive federal lunch funding to offer “healthier” meals and school snacks for students.
But the overbearing regulations have thus far convinced a record number of students to bring their lunches from home. Lunchrooms across the country are experiencing significant revenue loss, and increasing waste due to a requirement that all students take a fruit or vegetable, whether they eat it or not.
As a result, many districts are opting to forego their federal funding to serve students food they want to eat.
The latest round of regulations – which regulate nutritional elements of snacks sold at school – went into effect this year, and Sartell officials said they’ve seen an immediate impact, SCTimes.com reports.
District Food Services Director Brenda Braulick “says last year, between the middle and high schools, (the a la carte line) brought in $2,200 a day. So far this year, it’s been about $1,400 a day, though she says the number is increasing.”
The sales loss is troubling, she said, because the new whole-grain rich foods are more expensive to begin with.
“The students enjoy mini corn dogs. We won’t be able to serve those every day,” Braulick said.
“All juices must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, or diluted with water but no added sweeteners,” she said.
Elementary students are now limited to 8-ounce servings of milk or juice, and middleschoolers are limited to 12 ounces, SCTimes.com reports.
Snacks are now limited to 200 calories, while full lunches cannot exceed 850.
“Any condiments or accompaniments must also be included in that nutritional profile,” said Braulick, adding that the district is lobbying for exemptions, such as eliminating the mandatory fruit or vegetable requirement.
“To tell them they have to take it does not get them to consume it,” she said.
Meanwhile, at Minnesota’s largest high school, officials have already determined that the nonsensical federal lunch edicts are more trouble than they’re worth.
Wayzata High School officials dropped out of the National School Lunch Program this year, along with a lot of other schools in many states, because the one-size-fits-all regulations don’t jibe with the school’s diverse student body, CBS reports.
“We’re trying to make sure they get enough food, because if they are athletes, they are here at six in the morning until at least six at night, so they are hungry,” Sue Johnson, the school’s cafeteria coordinator.
Another reason the school is ditching the federal lunch rules is because much of the “healthy” food – such as the mandatory fruit or vegetables – ended up in the trash, anyway.
“We certainly did see an increase in waste … because it had to be there, or had to be on the tray,” Mary Anderson, supervisor for the Culinary Express Department at Wayzata schools, told CBS.
Despite a 25 cent increase in the price of lunches at Wayzata High School this year, school lunch sales have increased significantly with the new menu – a clear indication the district made the right move.
“We’re seeing increases between two and three hundred lunches a day,” Anderson said.