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Tipsheet

Illinois School District Dumps Michelle O's School Lunch Program

‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the message Illinois’ second largest school district has for Michelle Obama’s school lunch program. Township High School District 214 decided in May to walk away from nearly $1 million in federal funding just to get a little more freedom back when it comes to the food it serves its students. And so far, things are working out just fine.

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In May, the board for Township High School District 214 voted to drop out of the federal program, after deciding its guidelines were too restrictive. For instance, kids would not have been able to buy hard-boiled eggs or certain types of yogurt. School officials also have noted new guidelines consider hummus to be too high in fat, and pretzels to be too high in salt; non-fat milk containers larger than 12 ounces could not be sold either. […]

District 214 Associate Supt. Cathy Johnson said school officials have no regrets so far, despite giving up nearly $1 million in federal funding.

“So far so good. The meals, as you’ve seen, look fantastic, and there’s a lot of excitement,” she said.

It’s been a week since District 214 schools started selling school lunches after opting out of the National School Lunch Program, a move that meant giving up $900,000 in federal aid.

School officials said staying in the program meant following unreasonable restrictions on protein, sodium and fat. Without the newfound freedom from those guidelines, “the meals would be far simpler,” Johnson said.

At least two of the three healthy choices on school menus – crispy falafel with flatread and rice pilaf, and pasta primavera with roasted vegetables and olive oil – would not have made the cut for the federal program, as being too low in protein.

Johnson said, the concern was, in addition to the federal guidelines being too restrictive on menu choices, sales of the food they could offer wouldn’t be high enough to receive federal aid.

“What would happen is the sales simply wouldn’t be there, and the offerings that we would currently have wouldn’t be available,” Johnson said.

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Though the school lunch program was designed to combat childhood obesity, it doesn’t exactly help if the program’s restrictions are so burdensome that it’s driven more than 1 million students away from the lunches and led to more than $1 billion in food waste per year since the program’s implementation, according to EAGnews.org.

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