Niskayuna Schools: No thank you to federal lunches

Posted at: 01/22/2013 11:27 PM
Updated at: 01/23/2013 9:32 AM
By: Dan Levy

NISKAYUNA - It was only last July when the federal government implemented new guidelines for school lunch programs -- and Niskayuna was quick to jump on board.

Now however, the school board has decided unanimously to opt out of the program.

The federal guidelines were put in place to promote nutrition and to battle the nation's epidemic youth obesity problem.

After just four months, the school district decided it wasn't working out.

The program requires increased servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, but smaller portions of the main course. In the Niskayuna cafeterias, kids found that plan to be less than appetizing.

"The kids just don't like what's being served this year," said Suzanne Wixom, director of the school district's food services. "They are being forced to take things (they don't like) where last year we presented it in a lot of fun different ways."

On Tuesday night, Wixom told the school board what was happening at the lunch tables. Part of the problem, she says, is that unless the nutritional guidelines were met, schools don't get federal reimbursements. Wixom believes the guidelines came out prematurely, before everything could be worked out.

In addition, she says kids who were forced to take certain foods wound up tossing it into the trash. Lunch prices increased, portions decreased and the number of kids who were buying their lunch at school was cut in half. By November, the school district's food operation was $59,000 in the red.

"It's not just a money problem," Wixom asserted. "We have kids who are hungry and that's what we're here for. They can't learn if they're hungry."

The district will now go back to their former award-winning menu, which Wixom insists is much more than just chicken nuggets and pizza.

"It's a good moment right now," she said. "I'm happy that we can go back to serving kids what it is that they want and that it's healthy and it's nutritious."

It's not just Niskayuna where there's been this dietary dilemma. School districts across the state and across the nation have reported similar findings.