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Two central N.Y. schools opt out of National School Lunch Program


When high school students in the Fayettevlle-Manlius and Baldwinsville school districts go back to class this week, they’ll find food more to their liking in the lunch room.

Both districts have opted out of the National School Lunch Program that limits calories, carbohydrates and sodium in school lunches.

Baldwinsville Superintendent David Hamilton says too many students in his district stopped buying lunches, and that threatened the viability of the school lunch program.

"Grilled cheese and tomato soup was a very popular lunch," said Hamilton. "We couldn’t offer that under the new guidelines of the federal government. Spaghetti and meatballs, we couldn’t offer that either."

The result was that the number of school lunches bought every day at the high school dropped from 600 to 430. And that had a big impact on the food service bottom line.

"We all want a lower carb diet. But it’s hard to sell a sub on something that looks more like a piece of paper than a sub roll," said Hamilton. "I understand the shift but now the students aren’t opting to eat any of that. They’re stepping away entirely. So I think a compromise is worth a try."

To keep the program in the black, pulling out of the restrictive school lunch program was the best option. Fayetteville-Manlius was in the same situation, with school officials saying students there weren’t buying lunch. Surveys showed the students felt portion sizes were too small and in some cases the food simply didn’t taste good.

Both districts will keep the federal program in the lower grades for now, and revisit the situation in the future.

Hamilton says there will still be healthy food on the lunch line.

"It’s not as if we’re retreating towards some sort of pre-packaged all, MSG food here," said Hamilton. "We’re going back to the meals we were serving before the most recent federal regulations.”

Officials at Fayetteville-Manlius say the district had already started looking at ways to offer healthier foods. The cafeteria there will look more like a food court, with more grab and go items along with a deli bar and a hot meal item.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.