Some Schools to Take Heavy Hit From Competitive Food Regs

District with low free- and reduced-percentage say proposed rules would mean tens of thousands of dollars lost.

Snack bar at Shawnee Mission (Kan.) West High School.

Last month FSD spoke with several child nutrition professionals about the USDA’s proposed competitive food regs. Those operators weren’t too concerned with the proposed rules; however, all those school districts either had a high free- and reduced-percentage or had little to no à la carte sales. We heard from several district—oddly enough all were in Pennsylvania—that expressed great concern about heavy financial losses they would incur if these proposed regs were implemented.

Gregory Hummel, director of food service at Derry Township School District in Hershey, Pa., estimates that in only 95 operating days, he could lose as much as $100,000 in revenue at his high school if the regs were enacted.

“Put yourself in the mindset of a high school student who used to have all these choices,” Hummel says. “They could choose a cookie once a week or an iced tea beverage. Now they may not be able to. I know my kids; they are going to pack [lunches with those items], so are the regs helping us with childhood obesity?”

Hummel stresses he doesn’t serve unhealthy items. Five years ago at his middle schools, he revamped à la carte items to be healthier. His concern lies in the high school, where he feels choice shouldn’t be taken away from students, but they should instead be educated on healthier eating. “Where is the funding for nutrition education [in these regs],” he asks.

“We go into the classroom and do nutrition education and we do sample days to teach healthier eating. These are an operational cost,” he says, adding that the loss in à la carte revenue at his high school will put a financial burden on continuing these programs.

Derry Township has only a 15% free- and reduced-percentage. “Schools with a high free- and reduced-percentage may not need to sell à la carte,” Hummel says. About 80% of his high school students purchase à la carte items each day.

Karen Castaneda, R.D., director of nutritional services for the Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa., echoes Hummel’s concerns. “In districts with a lower free- and reduced-percentage, competitive foods are of higher importance,” Castaneda says. Only 9.5% of Castaneda’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Castaneda is concerned that the proposed regs will limit the choices she can offer her students, most of whom do not purchase the reimbursable meal. Less than 30% of high school students purchase the reimbursable meal.

Beverages is a huge area of concern for Castaneda. She wishes there were more options for what could be served during meal times. She’d like another option that she could serve that would be equivalent in calories to an 8-ounce fruit or vegetable juice drink.

“If students don’t like what’s available [in the reimbursable line] they can afford to buy what they want and bring in what they want,” Castaneda says. “I don’t see our foodservice budget being sustainable and solvent [if these regulations were enacted], and that’s a big issue.”

David Ludwig, director of food service for Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania, has a free and reduced percentage of 30%. Since enacting the new meal pattern regulations, Ludwig’s à la carte sales have increased. In January, Ludwig’s à la carte sales reached $31,000. With the proposed regs, Ludwig says he won’t be able to offer enough variety for his students, causing them to bring their lunch from home. Ludwig doesn’t believe his students will begin purchasing the reimbursable meal instead of à la carte.

“I try to do the right thing for my students,” he says. “I produce a high-quality meal but they want variety. When you take away that variety more children will pack. High school students in my district don’t pack as healthy [as the food I provide them].”

Ludwig is also concerned about the burden these proposed rules would put on manufacturers, many of whom have already spent time and money on reformulating items to meet the new meal regs. “It would be hard to do this again,” Ludwig says of a manufacturer’s decision to reformulate à la carte items, “especially if you don’t know if kids will eat it.”  

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
coffee senior living

From Keurig Green Mountain.

Healthcare foodservice represents the perfect environment for serving coffee. For the time-crunched staff, family and friends visiting patients, and seniors craving a treat, snack, or pick-me-up, coffee is considered a valuable amenity.

What’s more, purchasing beverages away from home is a popular habit. According to Technomic’s 2016 Beverage report, consumers average 3.6 drink purchases per week from foodservice outlets. And coffee is one of the most popular beverage options— Technomic’s 2016 Snacking Occasion report found 61% of consumers say...

Industry News & Opinion

South Valley Preparatory School in Albuquerque, N.M., has launched a range of healthy eating initiatives to combat obesity, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

The initiatives are in response to a State of Obesity report that stated that nearly a quarter of 10- to 17-year-olds in New Mexico were overweight or obese in 2016. The school banned junk food on campus during school hours for both students and staff, and offers healthy seasonal meals in its cafeteria. Students also take weekly trips to local farms to get an inside look at where their food comes from.

While the school...

Industry News & Opinion

Food delivery company Good Uncle is expanding to 15 college campuses this fall, The Daily Orange reports.

The company plans to grow along the East Coast and is looking at opening at schools such as George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University, Villanova University and American University. Good Uncle hopes to open at 50 to 100 campuses by 2019.

Starting as a delivery-only kitchen in 2016, Good Uncle partners with local restaurants to recreate their popular dishes and then deliver them to college students. The company offers free delivery, no delivery minimum...

Ideas and Innovation
wahoo tacos

School lunch is heating up. As expectations rise in the noncommercial sector, the old-fashioned cafeteria has become a hot topic. Political pressure on schools has seesawed over the past eight years, and nutritional regulations on items like sodium and whole grains have been overhauled (and back again). Meanwhile, students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers are demanding more healthfulness and better taste from school meals, often for the same cost.

Yet the industry’s best are dedicated to getting better, even while looking to the future with caution. “There’s not...

FSD Resources