Schools face nutrition and financial crunch

Federal meal regulations are providing consistent challenges for school meal programs.

WASHINGTON—A Chicago suburban district, realizing it would lose more money than it rakes in, opted out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program last month in response to strict, new federal health regulations.

But many districts nationwide can’t afford to give up federal subsidies, forcing administrators to find ways to encourage students to eat the healthier foods required by the federal rules.

The USDA’s new Smart Snacks rules, which eliminate junk food in schools and go into effect July 1, are the latest in a slew of health regulations. They are part of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which also includes regulations for breakfast and lunch that were fully enforced during the 2013-14 school year, and have left some food service directors struggling to find compliant, affordable recipes that students will enjoy.

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Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

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