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Bethlehem drops federal lunch program

Lack of interest at high school prompts menu change, parents object

Bethlehem Central School District recently decided to opt out of the federal lunch program at the high school out of concerns that the stringent guidelines did not provide students with enough options.

Bethlehem Central School District recently decided to opt out of the federal lunch program at the high school out of concerns that the stringent guidelines did not provide students with enough options.

— “While we could argue the point about keeping the federal program,” Healthy Kids Committee Co-President Karen Shaw said, “the bigger issue at hand is that, federal program or not, our students are entitled to the offering of school food that complies with current evidence-based nutritional standards without the temptations of foods of low or no nutritional value while they are in the care of our public school system.”

Shaw said “food is a personal choice,” but being exposed to marketing of unhealthy foods at school is not.

Bethlehem Food Services Director Paul Franchini said the district is trying to provide high school students with more options. The high school will offer two à la carte lines and continue to promote a complete meal, so students would be able to only purchase an entrée if they prefer.

“The kids are spread out all over the place in what they are choosing,” Franchini said. “It is just going to be packaged in different ways to give more variety to what students want.”

Franchini said the high school will continue serving healthy food and try to stay within federal regulations, but not being bound to them offers more opportunities for choice.

“Some of the regulations this year with the federal government are just too stringent,” he said.

Judith Kehoe, chief business and financial officer for Bethlehem, said student eating habits and choices stretch beyond the control of the district.

“The children’s eating habits are something that are influenced by many other things than what they are eating at the district’s lunch program,” Kehoe said. “These are high school kids that we are talking about as well, so their habits are largely ingrained by the time they get to the high school.”

Healthy Kids Committee Co-President Cindy Ferrari said the committee was “disheartened by the lack of commitment” to implement the federal program. But Kehoe said the district was fully committed to making the federal standards work and offered a variety of options to meet different students’ tastes.

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