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New Lunch Rules Too Cumbersome for Some Rural Schools

Some rural Oregon schools say that the new requirements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act are so burdensome that they are unable to offer school lunches, according to a recent story by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Across Oregon, 18 school districts, many of which are rural, do not offer school lunches, which means that even students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch must bring meals or buy food outside of school. More than 65 percent of Oregon's school districts are small and rural, and 11 percent of the state's students attend these schools. Statewide, nearly 54 percent of rural students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, according to a report from the Rural School and Community Trust.

Under the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools are required to serve fewer calories and more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They're also required to keep careful records about what kids eat and report how each meal item meets the new federal nutrition standards. Heidi Dupuis, who oversees the school nutrition program for the Oregon Department of Education, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that for small districts, "It's a one-person show for who is planning meals, purchasing the food, preparing the food, serving the food, counting it. And now we have this, an additional level of documentation."

According to the story, some rural school districts also lack access to the healthier foods that are required under the act. Some research has shown that rural students are more likely than urban or suburban children to experience food insecurity, and a higher percentage of rural children rely on federal food assistance than urban or suburban children do.

A study released earlier this year that looked at plate waste data from more than 1,000 students in four schools found that since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, consumption of vegetables has increased by more than 16 percent. While the report found that the new nutrition standards did not result in increased food waste, "high levels of fruit and vegetable waste continued to be a problem." The report found that students discarded between 60 percent and 75 percent of the vegetables, and 40 percent of the fruits on their trays. 

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