RANCHESTER, Wyo. – You know it’s bad when the school employees admit even they wouldn’t eat the food they’re serving to students.
Wyoming’s Sheridan County District One business manager Jeremy Smith says his district dropped out of the National School Lunch Program “because there were just too many complaints,” according to Wyoming Public Media.
“Universally, it was, ‘We are starving. We are hungry. This isn’t enough food for us.’ But we couldn’t blame them, because I looked at that school lunch and said, ‘I wouldn’t eat it either,’” Smith says.
The district saw a 20 percent spike in sales this school year after it dropped the federal rules championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
The district increased participation, but increased prices, too, to offer bigger portions to growing students.
They’re also offering “locally sourced produce and beef.”
The news station observed one student asking for – and receiving – a double helping of popcorn chicken.
“A one-size-fits-all program doesn’t work everywhere,” Dennis Decker, the district’s food service director tells the NPR affiliate.
“And I also think that food is a little too personal to make a law. You can tell someone they can’t speed, but I don’t you can tell everybody what they have to eat every day.”
All told, seven Wyoming school districts have dropped out of the federal program and are forgoing the reimbursements.
“Well, last year the portions just weren’t big enough,” says Big Horn student Ethyn Etchechoury. “I would always bring cold lunch to school. I’ve seen drastic changes. I’ve never brought a bag lunch this year.”
Another student tells WPM that half of the students brought a home-packed lunch last year. Now, only a handful do.
A rural district in Oregon dropped the regulations, too.
“Kids quit eating,” LeeAnn Conro, business manager for the Jordan Valley District, tells Oregon Public Broadcasting. She thinks it was because of federal rules. “More whole wheat, more green veggies, no salt — it’s not as palatable.”
The amount of paperwork became unpalatable, too.
According to Conro, the school has to prove how every piece of food complies with the standards that regulate calories, sodium, fat and sugar.
“The record keeping became cumbersome to say the least,” she says.
Heidi Dupuis of the Oregon Department of Education says it’s harder for smaller districts because they often have one person tackling several tasks.
“…It’s a one-person show for who is planning meals, purchasing the food, preparing the food, serving the food, counting it. And now we have this, an additional level of documentation.”
“Nobody’s going hungry here,” Conro contends.