Catlin leaving federal school lunch program
CATLIN — The Catlin school district will provide its own meal program in the upcoming school year, and is currently taking orders for items that students and their parents would like to see on lunch trays.
Superintendent Gary Lewis said close to 120 people have already responded to a lunch survey that was posted on the district's website earlier this month. It's available at http://bit.ly/11GE8Hg.
"We're going to have the freedom to do more stuff with our own program, and we want to give people options," Lewis said, adding he believes that will increase buy-in to the program.
So far, feedback from the survey and parents he has run into has been positive, said Lewis, who has assured them that meals — which will feature fruits and vegetables, multi-grain bread options and reduced fat and sodium products — will be nutritious but also flavorful and appealing to kids.
He said the district plans to serve up some of the fare people have requested in the survey.
"Some people would like to see soup offerings and items like grilled cheese with tomato soup and chicken and noodles. They also like breakfast for dinner — pancakes, eggs, sausage."
School officials decided to pull out of the National School Lunch Program earlier this spring, after seeing a decline in the number of meals that were served and too much food going into the garbage last year.
"When the federal government changed the nutrition guidelines, they became very restrictive," said Lewis, who heard numerous complaints from students and parents about the new food offerings. "If a kid is hungry, they're not going to be able to concentrate in class. We need to work to make sure they're full. That will increase their potential."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets federal nutritional standards for school lunches, revised meal guidelines for government-subsidized school meals, in an effort to address childhood obesity.
Under the new rules, which are still being phased in, participating schools must serve more whole-grain products, double the amount of fruits and veggies, serve more dry beans and peas and serve low-fat or fat-free milk and other dairy products, among other things. They also must limit the amount of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in food.
"We had to not only offer vegetables but vegetables of a certain color, and we had to offer them so many times a week," Lewis said, adding it was difficult to meet the guidelines with selections the kids would eat. "I will eat kale. But if I tried to get my 11- and 7-year-old to eat kale, they will look at me like, 'What are you putting on my plate?'"
The stricter guidelines also set new minimum and, for the first time, maximum calorie limits for students, based on age, to ensure proper portion size. The maximum daily intake is 650 calories a day for K-5 students, 700 for sixth- through eighth-graders and 850 for high school students.
But in Lewis' opinion, that wasn't enough for older students.
"They were going away hungry. We feel like if a high school kid needs more, we can provide them with a little more," the superintendent said, adding local officials decided not to renew its application to the national program this year after doing a cost analysis on an in-house program.
Overall, participating schools in Illinois have accepted the new changes and implemented them with little feedback, reports Mary Fergus, an Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman. State officials are in charge of certifying whether local schools are meeting requirements, and if they are, they get reimbursed an extra 6 cents per reimbursable lunch.
"As of June 15, we have 90 percent of our sponsors submitted with about 78 percent of them approved," she said.
Participating schools are reimbursed about half the cost of each full-price meal, and nearly the entire cost of meals for students who receive free lunches because of their household income.
Catlin will increase their meal prices slightly to offset the lost state reimbursements, Lewis said. Meals for K-8 students will go from $2.15 to $2.25, meals for high school students will go from $2.25 to $2.50 and meals for adults will go from $3 to $3.25.
Lewis said students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches will still be eligible for the reduced rates.
"We did some studies that showed it would take us about 83 days into the year to make up what we were being reimbursed from the federal government," Lewis said, adding the food service program lost money over the last three years. "We don't want to make money on it, but we want to break even, which will be a big plus."