Top News from Top Sources

Elmbrook teens respond negatively to nutrition requirements; high schools drop Brookfield Elm Grove Now

In an effort to bring teenagers back to the cafeteria, Elmbrook School District high schools are dropping out of the federal school lunch program.

The district has seen a slow decline in lunch participation, by about four percent overall, since the start of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, said Cheryl Peil, Elmbrook’s director of food services.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is a federal bill that provides funding for multiple food programs intended to improve child nutrition.

Districts who opt for the funding are required to abide by new, “common-sense standards for fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, while promoting products that have whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients,” the United States Department of Agriculture states on its website.

But many Elmbrook high school students were not fond of the food offerings established under the requirements, Peil said. Some students simply just stopped eating the food they didn’t want and threw it away.

“The most common complaint (under the new requirements) is the rule you must take either a fruit or vegetable to make it a complete lunch,” Peil said. “In the past, they could take three out of the five items offered and they could make the choice on what they took.”

The high schools will still follow national nutrition guidelines as provided by the USDA.

The school board approved the new high school changes for the 2015-16 school year on May 5.

“We believe that forcing students to take (food) is not necessarily the best approach,” Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for finance, operations and human resources, said at the May meeting. “But producing quality items that students want to take, that align with the (national dietary) standards, will allow us to be more successful in providing a higher quality project.”

By dropping out of the federal program, the Brookfield Central and Brookfield East will now have the flexibility to offer more food that students enjoy, while still following other nutritional standards. The district’s other grade levels — kindergarten through eighth-grade — will remain in the federal lunch program for now.

“The food items will be scaled more to (the students’) preferences,” Peil said. “We met with a few students groups to develop our menu selections.”

Those menu selections will include taco bars and pasta bars — options that students “love,” she said.

Leaving the federal program isn’t too uncommon. In Wisconsin alone, several school districts have left the program, including the Muskego-Norway School District, the Waterford Graded School District and the Central High School District of Westosha, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article published last year.

“It was kind of a ripple effect across the country,” Peil said. “School districts started saying that they couldn’t comply with the program’s standards and a trend to leave was starting to happen. I realized that there are definitely some barriers — not bad barriers — that restricted what our kids could eat.”

The Elmbrook School District will lose approximately $180,000 in federal funding by dropping the program for the high schools, but a new model has been established to make up the difference: a 50-cent increase per meal.

“Students seemed perfectly willing to pay 50 cents more per meal to enjoy a wider variety of food,” Peil said.

The high school cafeterias will also have a new “college look” as food stations will replace the traditional serving areas, Peil said.

“Our plan is to change the look of school lunch,” she said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest problem for us — changing the image of ‘high school food service’ … as something old or out-of-touch. In order to change that image, it will take some time.”

“We are excited to make these changes and hope our high school students enjoy the changes we implement,” she added.