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Nation

Some school districts dropping out of healthy lunch program

BUFFALO — After just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier, new federal lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.

Federal officials say they don’t have exact numbers but have seen isolated reports of schools cutting ties with the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for meals served and gives them access to lower-priced food.

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Districts that rejected the program say the reimbursement was not enough to offset losses from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry.

‘‘Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat,’’ said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, resulting in a loss of $30,000 last year. ‘‘So you
sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness.’’

Near Albany, Voorheesville Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said the program didn’t even make it through the school year after students repeatedly complained about the small portions and apples and pears went from the tray to the trash untouched.

Districts that leave the program are free to develop their own guidelines. Voorheesville’s chef began serving such dishes as salad topped with flank steak and crumbled cheese, pasta with chicken and mushrooms, and a panini with chicken, red peppers, and cheese.

In Catlin, soups and fish sticks will return to the menu this year, and the hamburger lunch will come with yogurt and a banana — not one or the other, like last year.

Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for the US Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said she is still optimistic about the program’s long-term prospects.

‘‘Many of these children have never seen or tasted some of the fruits and vegetables that are being served before, and it takes a while to adapt and learn,’’ she said.

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