90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science

Illinois School District Quits National School Lunch Program

Students at McLean High School in McLean, Virginia, purchase snacks at a vending machine on school property 15 December 2005. (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The new federal “Smart Snacks in School” program is aimed at making sure students are only offered nutritious foods and beverages during the school day. Pictured is a student at McLean High School in McLean, Virginia, in 2005. (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

A suburban Chicago school district’s decision to opt out of the National School Lunch Program leaves federal dollars and food on the table.

The school board in Township High School District 214 voted yesterday to drop the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks in School” program that will be implemented in schools nationwide starting July 1.

Officials in the district say that the new food requirements offer healthy meals that students won’t eat.

David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214, speaks with Jeremy Hobson about why the district is rejecting the program, and what it plans to do to keep the menu healthy.

Interview Highlights: David Schuler

On why the district decided to opt out of the program

“We just decided that with the regulations required for the new food lunch program, our students were not going to be eating the food, they were going to be throwing the food away. And we’re close enough with our high schools that kids could leave the campus, walk across the street to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store, where they’re gonna be purchasing food that’s much less healthier than we can offer in the district. So we’re gonna be offering very healthy, well-balanced, nutritious meals, but just ones that also taste good.”

On why the federal program doesn’t work for his students

“It really comes down to the amount. You know, like, a hard-boiled egg can no longer be served because it’s too high in fat. Skim milk over 12 ounces can’t be served. The portion sizes are much smaller than in the past. So for high school athletes who are looking to eat and be full, it’s just not working for us.”

On helping students learn about making good choices in their diets

“We would rather provide an educational experience for our students for when they go through the lunch line. So what they will see is every food that they can choose from will have a green, a yellow or a red dot. Green means totally healthy, you can eat as much as you’d like. Yellow means, you know, maybe two or three servings a week. Red, you can have this, but only every now and then. Rather than just leaving campus and going and buying a bag of chips or grabbing a burger at the fast food restaurant, helping educate them from a nutritional standpoint.”

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW, and a school district outside Chicago is saying no to the federal government's school lunch program because of new requirements that food be healthier. The school board in Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, voted to drop out of the program yesterday, a program first lady Michelle Obama has been advocating for.

David Schuler is superintendent of the district, and he joins us on the line. And superintendent, why did you decide to opt out of the program?

DAVID SCHULER: You know, we're in a position where we just decided that with the regulations required for the new food lunch program, our students were not going to be eating the food, they were going to be throwing the food away. And we're close enough with our high schools that kids could leave the campus, walk across the street to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store, where they're going be purchasing food that's much less healthier than we can offer in the district.

So we're going to be offering very healthy, well-balanced, nutritious meals, but just ones that also taste good.

HOBSON: Well, let's talk about what these regulations are. This requires things to be whole grain rich. It requires that there be fruit or vegetable or a dairy product or a protein food. So these are things you're saying that students just don't want to eat?

SCHULER: No, it's not necessarily that, Jeremy. It really comes down to the amount. You know, like, a hard-boiled egg can no longer be served because it's too high in fat. Skim milk over 12 ounces can't be served. The portion sizes are much smaller than in the past. So for high school athletes who are looking to eat and be full, it's just not working for us.

HOBSON: So do you think that these regulations went too far, then?

SCHULER: I mean, I think obviously they had wonderful intentions, and we would never fault anyone's intentions, but for high school students, we found that students were throwing away more of the food than they were actually consuming, or they were leaving campus and going to purchase less healthy food.

HOBSON: Now on the flip side of this, of course, we're got the data from the CDC, which shows that more than a third of kids and teenagers are now overweight or obese in this country, that the number of children who are obese has doubled in the last 30 years, it's quadrupled among adolescents. So as you say, the intention was to get people to eat more healthy foods, and maybe it's just growing pains. Maybe they would get used to it, no?

SCHULER: Possibly, but I think what we're finding is we would rather provide an educational experience for our students for when they go through the lunch line. So what they will see is every food that they can choose from will have a green, a yellow or a red dot.

Green means totally healthy, you can eat as much as you'd like. Yellow means, you know, maybe two or three servings a week. Red, you can have this, but only every now and then. Rather than just leaving campus and going and buying a bag of chips or grabbing a burger at the fast food restaurant, helping educate them from a nutritional perspective.

HOBSON: So give me an example of what a lunch could be under your program.

SCHULER: Yeah, so it could be, you know, a Buffalo chicken wrap with a side of sliced apples and baby carrots. It could be an apple, feta and edamame salad, pasta primavera.

HOBSON: Could it be a burger and fries?

SCHULER: It could be a burger and fries, yeah, but not French fries. We don't fry any food. We haven't had fryers in our district for probably 10 years now. Everything is baked.

HOBSON: Now the Chicago Tribune is reporting that without being in the federal program, your district is going to lose $900,000 in federal subsidies. Why would you be willing to give up that much money?

SCHULER: Yeah, well, the only way we would receive the subsidies is if students would actually eat in the cafeteria. Our history has been we received about $900,000. We believe that through a la carte sales and our new offerings that we're actually going to be able to make up that money. We think that we'll make about a 10 percent increase over our current net sales at the end of year one.

HOBSON: And what about students who get free and reduced meal plans?

SCHULER: They will still be able to receive free and reduced meal plans.

HOBSON: Those would not be affected at all, even though federal dollars help provide those meals?

SCHULER: Correct. We're confident that through our a la carte sales, we're going to be able to cover those expenses. We are not going to allow any child of poverty not to have a good, warm, healthy meal.

HOBSON: So what's been the response from parents?

SCHULER: It's been incredibly positive. We ran sample menus of food based on the proposed regulations and then based on our proposal, and it was just overwhelmingly that the students really liked the size and portions of the food.

HOBSON: David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Illinois. David, thanks.

SCHULER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

October 23 Comment

New Documentary Profiles Human Rights Watch Team

An elite group known as the E-Team travels across the globe documenting human rights violations and war crimes.

October 23 Comment

Bottom Of The Sea Is ‘A World Of Surprises’

The world's oceans cover nearly two-thirds of the Earth's surface, yet little is understood about the ocean floor.

October 22 13 Comments

Colorado Backs Away From Pot Edibles Ban

Critics say a ban would violate the state's voter-approved legalization of recreational marijuana, which took effect in January.

October 22 4 Comments

Modest Raise For Social Security Recipients

Economist Diane Swonk says the 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase falls short of the inflation older Americans actually see.