Nicolet drops national lunch program

July 30, 2014

Glendale — Nicolet High School will be dropping out of the national school lunch program this school year because the required healthy food options didn't win over students.

Healthy foods are required under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which will be fully implemented this year. But Vicky Hanson, the district's food service director, said foods like black beans, kale and whole grains just end up in the trash at the end of the lunch hour.

"We put it out, but they just don't take it," she said. "It's always in the trash."

As a result, the Nicolet High School District lost $10,000 last year due to the increased cost of preparing healthy foods that were then thrown away by high school students, said Jeff Dellutri, Nicolet's business manager. About 15 percent of the school's population participates in the free or reduced-price lunch program, but the remaining 85 percent of students prefer the a la carte program, which is not allowed under the National School Lunch Program.

For the district to lose the a la carte program would lead to an even more dramatic loss in hot lunch sales, Dellutri said.

"We thought it would be a financial disaster for us this year with the full implementation (of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act)," Dellutri said at a School Board meeting Monday, July 28.

Other high schools are also leaving the national lunch program, Dellutri said. The healthy foods initiative was created to change children's eating habits, but by the time students reach high school, they have already formed their eating habits.

Even though the district is dropping out of the government's lunch program, Nicolet students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch will still be able to receive a free value meal for breakfast and lunch. The district remains eligible for federal funds by participating in the National Special Milk Program.

Nicolet, which has provided its own lunch program since 1999, tried to boost interest in its lunch program two years ago by offering free breakfast. Hanson said they lost money on the universal breakfast program because not enough free lunch participants were taking advantage of it. The universal breakfast policy will change this school year, and students who do not qualify for free or reduced price lunch will have to pay $2 for breakfast. Milk prices will drop from 50 cents to 15 cents.

Nicolet also provides school lunches to Whitefish Bay Middle and High Schools, as well as St. Monica School in Whitefish Bay. Dominican High School will also be added to the district's food distribution system this upcoming school year. Whitefish Bay schools already do not participate in the national lunch program, so Nicolet's participation in the program led to two different types of food being prepared in the same kitchen.

"We're buying one type of food for them, and a different type of food for us," Dellutri said. "There are efficiencies to be had for us."

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