BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana’s Bozeman High School is proving schools can serve students nutritious meals they’ll love without Michelle Obama’s guiding hand.

Last year, Bozeman school board members voted 5-3 to pull the high school out of the National School Lunch Program because federal regulations on calories, fat, sugar, sodium, whole grains and other nutritional elements championed by the first lady were driving students off campus for lunch, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.

Instead of forking over their lunch money on the government-mandated goods, students instead opted to visit local fast food restaurants and gobble down gas station fare – severely impacting the district’s food service budget.

School officials realized it was financially advantageous to forgo $117,000 in federal food subsidies tied to the National School Lunch Program to draw students back into the cafeteria, and it seems they were correct.

Michelle Obama huh“We’re off to a good start,” Bob Burrows, Bozeman’s food service director, told board members Monday, according to the news site.

For September, “Our traffic is way up – over 1,000 (customers a day) regularly,” he said, adding that last year “that wasn’t the case.”

Burrows attributed much of the increase traffic to a sharp spike in “extra food” sales, or anything less than the government’s definition of a full meal. Districtwide, schools took in more than $54,000 in extra food sales, mostly at the high school, equating to a 48 percent jump from the $37,000 in goods sold last year, he said.

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, deputy superintendent Steve Johnson told the Chronicle.

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.

“Burrows and Brittany Bennett, school district nutritionist, told the School Board that to replace federal commodity beef, the district is buying local beef from the B-Bar Ranch in Emigrant,” according to the news site.

“Some 55 percent of foods are made from scratch in Bozeman school kitchens, which is ‘crazy’ in an industry that relies heavily on pre-packaged food, they said. Burrows said they make their own honey mustard, using 25 gallons of local honey in every batch.”

The district is still focused on closely tracking the nutritional content of student meals, and even posts the calories, salt, and fat in each on a smart phone app so parents and students can reference the menus each week.

School food service officials told board members about 70 percent of school snacks comply with federal regulations, but about 30 percent – mostly drinks – do not. They said they plan to soon request the board’s permission to again sell carbonated drinks in the high school’s vending machines to boost sales, though officials said they were hoping to sell sparking water and other carbonated beverages, rather than pop.

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