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N.Y. School District Forgoes School Lunch Subsidies; Ditches Meal Rules

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New federal school meal rules are making lunchtime so unpleasant, one upstate New York school district says, it has decided to forgo getting federal money to subsidize the cost of making the meals to get out of having to abide by the rules.

The 4,200-student Niskayuna school district said in a letter to parents this week that although the district has worked hard to implement the new standards—which call for less fat, less salt, for limits on calories, and for the addition of whole grain, fruit, and vegetable servings—students responded very poorly to the new meals.

The district, where only about 8 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, according to the Times-Union newspaper, says if student participation in the school lunch program picks up, the meal program will survive losing federal subsidies. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals will still be eligible for free or low-cost lunches, the district said, and lunch prices for everyone else, at least for now, won't change.

"Our school meals will continue to be nutritious and well-rounded," Superintendent Kay Salvaggio and School Lunch Director Suzanne Wixom said in the letter. "In fact, we are planning to return to lunch offerings that are similar to last year."

But portion sizes will increase, and students won't have to take a fruit or vegetable item every day, a facet of the new meals the district said was creating a lot of trash because students weren't eating their produce.

There have been protests of the new school meals around the country, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture told me they're still researching whether other districts have taken similar steps. Most notable is the music video set to the tune of Fun's "We Are Young" called "We Are Hungry" in which students from Kansas sang that they were starving because of the size of the new school meals.

The USDA, which came up with the new rules and oversees the national school lunch and breakfast programs, has said that if a school "encounters significant hardships employing the new calorie requirements, we stand ready to work with them quickly and effectively to remedy the situation with additional flexibilities."

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