Are healthy food regs leading students to skip cafeteria offerings?

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Fewer kids buying school lunches

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Fewer students are buying lunches at school, something that the district’s food service manager blames on the new food regulations.

More fruits and vegetables and less bread and meat are being served, changes prompted by new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.

In September, Chartwells School Dining Services served 9,347 meals compared to 10,586 the year before at the school district, said Dawn DeCamillo, food service director at Chartwells.

“I really wasn’t surprised because of the drastic changes,” she said. DeCamillo said she thinks other schools are facing a reduction in lunch purchases as well.

At Middle Township School District, the reduction in lunch purchases was obvious from the start of the school year, she said, particularly at the elementary schools.

Last year, elementary school students could have an alternative hot entrée or a salad, but not under the regulations, she said.

Students must pick three of five lunch components: fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or a meat alternate and milk, according to information on the regulations.

School lunches are down 2,500-3,000 each month throughout the district, board member George DeLollis announced at a Board of Education meeting Nov. 15.

Younger students do enjoy finger foods, like chicken nuggets, and elementary, middle school and high school students look forward to the food bar, which would feature tacos, for example, according to DeCamillo.

In September, students were introduced to roasted carrot fries, spinach salad, sweet potato tater tots and black bean burgers.

The drop in school lunch purchases means a decline in revenue for the district, she said.

The lunch menu changes will be a budget battle, she said. In September, the losses totaled about $30,000, she said.

Project food service revenues are about $1 million, and expenditures amount to about $427,000 for food and about $473,000 for labor, according to DeCamillo.

She said she plans to stave off the lunch price losses by controlling costs, including selling more meals. The plan is to try to serve food the students want to eat.

“It’s not an impossible hole to get out of,” she said. “It’s just going to be harder than previous years.”

In interviews in September, some high school student-athletes said that the smaller food portions mean they are purchasing more food because they don’t head home until later that night.

Board member George DeLollis said the decline in school lunch purchases will be monitored.

“We’ll be discussing it with Chartwells as well as our business administrator,” he said. “We offered up some opinions and thoughts as to why this is, but I’ll leave the speculation up somebody who can make a better judgment on that than I can.”

Lunch prices also increased by 15 cents for the 2012-13 school year, but DeCamillo said that’s not why students aren’t purchasing lunches. At the high school and middle school, the cost is $2.70 and $2.45 at both elementary schools.

Chartwells School Dining Services has been at the school district for 14 or 15 years, she said. The company employs 28 workers.

The Middle Township School District has around 2,700 students in high school, middle school and two elementary schools.

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