The board of a suburban Chicago school district voted unanimously on Thursday to drop out of the National School Lunch Program because it claims being forced to stop serving popular but unhealthy lunch options like pizza and fries will cause the district to lose revenue.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Township High School District 214 school district in Arlington Heights, Illinois, will forgo $900,000 in federal funding that subsidizes the school's free and reduced-price lunch program in order to continue to offer foods that would not be allowed under the federal Smart Snacks in School policy starting July 1.
The USDA's junk food-limiting Smart Snacks in Schools standards require that any food sold in schools, including in vending machines, either be a "whole grain-rich" grain product, be mainly comprised of fruit or vegetable, or list a protein food or dairy product as its first ingredient. Snacks may have no more than 200 calories and entrees may have no more than 350 calories, and fat, sodium and sugar limits have also been set. The policy is endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
The Arlington Heights district doesn't believe healthier options that adhere to the new standards will be able to compete with cafeteria classics like pizza and the fast food available just off campus near school grounds.
"What we saw based on those menus is that students simply will not choose the food," Cathy Johnson, the district's associate superintendent, said of the decision, according to ABC Chicago.
The district said it will come up with their own healthy lunch menu options by working with their own nutritionist, the Tribune reports. The district will also still continue to offer free and reduced-priced meals to students who qualify, though it hasn't yet revealed exactly how it plans to do that with the loss of federal funding.
The Chicago-area district is not the first to abandon the federal lunch program. The board of the Waterford School District in southeastern Wisconsin also voted this year to drop the program citing concerns over losing revenue and a belief that "the federal government’s having too much influence or control in that area of school programming," the Racine Journal Times reported.