The Michelle Obama-backed Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act and its restrictive regulations mandating the number of calories and nutrients in every kid’s meal have caused school districts to lose money due to a huge drop in school lunch sales.
While a few school districts are opting out of the program altogether, others have been subsidizing their operating losses with increased sales of fatty, sugary, calorie-laden junk food.
The Daily Caller is not making this up.
The Poughkeepsie Journal reports on the many ways that the ironclad law of unintended consequences is playing havoc with the National School Lunch Program in New York State’s Hudson River Valley.
At Highland Middle School, for example, students prefer Little Debbie snack cakes from the vending machine to government-approved raw vegetables. At Highland High School, a la carte foods such as nachos with cheese are big sellers.
The Highland Central School District rakes in big money over the course of a year on these items—to the tune of $52,000 from the vending machines and $189,000 from a la carte and snack food in 2011-12.
The nearby Arlington Central School District hauled in over $2 million during 2011-12 on what must be a delicious bill of snack fare including pizza, chicken nuggets and fries.
In the school cafeteria world’s vernacular, these various snacks are called “competitive foods.” They are allowed — for now — for schools that participate in the first lady-approved school lunch program. However, the schools must provide — in each school lunch — the required allotment of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting meats and other grains.
There are two main problems with these new requirements, notes the Journal. The first one is that whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables cost too much. For example, the Arlington school district saw a $40,000 increase in the cost of produce. The second problem is that fewer kids want to eat the lunches offered under the new regime, which leads to fewer sales, which leads to less revenue.
Consequently, school cafeterias that participate in the federal government’s school lunch program are facing huge deficits, even with the federal government’s subsidies. Also, lots of kids are stuffing their faces with a la carte nachos and Doritos and Yoo-hoo from vending machines because they hate the food (or are hungry after eating it).
“It’s sad we have to do this,” said Walter Robinson, lunch manager for a local school district, according to the Journal. “I would love to be able to make ends meet or make budget by just selling healthy lunches.”
Robinson’s employer, Millbrook Central School District, sells scrumptious competitive foods such as pre-fried mozzarella sticks and ice cream sundaes.
“The other sales are necessary to offset the cost of meal production,” agreed Marilyn Serino of the Dover Union Free School District. Sales of school lunches in this new era and the various government subsidies offered under the National School Lunch Program don’t “even begin to cover” costs, she told the Journal.
Serino added that she expected just the cost for health insurance for seven food workers to be $100,000 this year.
The answer from Washington is, of course, more regulation to solve the problems regulation has wrought.
Beginning in 2014-15, the Journal reports, the federal government will begin to limit the sale of the “competitive foods.”
School lunch ladies and their bosses who have to buy and sell food are expecting further losses as a result.
On the other hand, the Center for Food Safety says the new, stricter regulations are too lenient and still allow the exploitation of children. The Washington, D.C. nonprofit wants to “eliminate competitive foods” because they are unhealthy and because not all kids can afford a la carte items and vending machine food.
“The presence of so-called “a la carte” items on the school meal line sets up a demographic divide between those who can afford these items and those who cannot,” the Center asserts.
The Department of Agriculture has estimated that that cost of implementing the totality of the National School Lunch Program will be $3.2 billion over the next five years.