In September, schools began following a federal law to make lunches healthier, but some of the changes have been unpopular with students, and now some schools are searching for solutions.
At Lake George, the high school did a survey of students, and another of parents, to gauge reaction to the changes.
School district officials will review the results to determine any changes that can be made within the law.
Officials said the most common complaint from students is that the entrees are too small. That has been a concern at other school districts as well, especially among older students.
When the federal Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 went into effect in September, it resulted in smaller portions, and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, among other changes.
Annette Chamberlain, food service manager for Lake George, said the number of students buying lunches has gone down as a result of the smaller portions.
“We are definitely going to take the parents’ comments and students’ concerns into consideration as we move forward,” Chamberlain said. “We are looking to make some changes and get our participation back up.”
Superintendent Patrick Dee said the district has to make sure federal guidelines are met if changes occur to lunches. The district will look at improving the taste of food.
“What we are looking at doing is ensuring our cafeteria is a place our kids will go and be willing to eat our foods,” Dee said. “We are hearing more and more concerns this year now that there’s full implementation of the (Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act).”
Other school districts are also exploring changes.
At Warrensburg, the school district intends to hire a company to manage the food service program and provide expertise in nutrition. The district has already tried some changes to meals, said Superintendent Timothy Lawson.
Lawson said the federal law on portion size limits the changes schools can make to meals.
“We are somewhat still limited by portion size,” Lawson said. “That is the biggest area of concern raised by students”
Food waste is another problem schools like Warrensburg have seen.
Prior to the federal law, students had the option of taking a fruit or vegetable with their meal. Now each meal must include at least one serving of fruits or vegetables or else students will have to pay full price and schools won’t receive the federal reimbursement for that meal.
Food service budgets rely on federal reimbursements for a portion of their revenue.
As a result, many students are not eating the fruits and vegetables.
At Bolton, more students are bringing their lunch to school. The increase is not significant, but school officials surveyed the students to learn why they were bringing their own food and found it was because of the smaller portions, said Superintendent Raymond Ciccarelli.
Bolton is not planning on changes. Instead, the district will wait and evaluate.
“We just think it’s too early,” Ciccarelli said. “I think we have to look over a longer period of time.”
Some local students have bought more than one lunch, but this has not always solved the problem because they have a limited time to eat. And students are only allowed to buy one lunch each time they step in line.
The federal law also puts limits on calories, and requires schools to purchase fresh foods and low-fat milk. The law also requires schools to serve foods with less sodium and saturated fat.
Other school districts such as Glens Falls, Queensbury, South Glens Falls and Whitehall are not planning changes, but will continue to monitor the lunch program.
James Watson, superintendent of Whitehall, said students are adjusting their diets accordingly, but it was a difficult change at the start.
“The first couple weeks of school, it was like a culture shock,” Watson said.