Schools' New Balancing Act: Staying on the National School Lunch Program?

One foodservice director offers his thoughts on being part of the federal program in the face of new meal regulations.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

The implementation of the new U.S. Department of Agriculture meal regulations for school breakfasts and lunches may be causing some school districts—particularly those with low percentages of students receiving free or reduced-price meals—to consider the wisdom of being part of the National School Lunch Program. The program is voluntary; schools must be part of the program in order to receive any federal subsidies.

FoodService Director recently heard from the foodservice director at one school district where, ironically, schools might have to consider going back on the program due to the economy. Warren Grigg, director in Chesterfield County, Va., shared his story with us.

“Chesterfield County Public Schools, located outside Richmond, Va. removed their high schools from the federal Breakfast and Lunch program more than 18 years ago,” says Grigg. “Currently we have 10 high schools and one technical center on what we call a ‘non-federal breakfast and lunch program’. When we removed them from the program, they were struggling financially because the students did not care to participate in the federal program. They wanted to buy à la carte.”

He notes that, at one time, there were as many as six districts in Virginia whose high schools were not participating in the NSLP. Now, the only other district similar to Chesterfield is Hanover County.

At the time of the high schools’ withdrawal, Chesterfield County had only 15% of its students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals, he adds. However, now the district’s level is 32%.

“We are still maintaining profitability as a group, but there are many more challenges than before,” Grigg explains. “I believe, with the new regulations, many systems may be looking at [leaving the NSLP], but it is not for everyone. We have even discussed putting ours back on the federal program due to the increased number of free and reduced within the county.”

Grigg says that he would like to see what happens during the next few years as the new meal regulations “settle down.”

“Currently, we are seeing and hearing that full-paid students’ participation in the federal program has decreased nationwide due to the new regulations, and we have seen it here too in our elementary and middle schools,” he explains. “That is a big number for us and we depend on the full-paid students greatly. We are really watching to see what is happening nationwide with this category.”

FSD would like to hear from other districts regarding participation in the NSLP? Are you considering withdrawing from the program, either wholly or in part? If you are not part of the NSLP, are you thinking about rejoining and, if so, why? Send us your stories via email at pking@cspnet.com