FORT THOMAS, Ky. — Lunch at Fort Thomas Independent Schools may include more French fries, fewer vegetables and larger portions this year. One thing that won't be on the menu: federal dollars.
The Campbell County, Ky., district is opting out of the federal school lunch program, forfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding.
The reason: Kids didn't like their healthful lunches.
"The calorie limitations and types of foods that have to be provided ... have resulted in the kids just saying 'I'm not going to eat that,'" said Fort Thomas Superintendent Gene Kirchner.
The 2,800-student district joins a small but growing number of school districts across the country — mostly wealthy districts that can afford to forfeit the money — that have dropped out of the federal program in the wake of stricter nutritional standards.
Schools said students don't like the unsalted potatoes, low-fat cheese or the mandatory fruits and vegetables. They throw food away or decide not to eat at all.
In Kirchner's district, 166 fewer students bought lunch every day last year — 30,000 fewer a year. Instead they brought lunch from home, went to nearby restaurants or skipped lunch altogether.
That's a problem because students were going hungry or choosing unhealthful fast food or snacks instead of school meals.
It's also a financial problem for the district. If kids don't buy lunch, the district loses money and has to dig into its general fund.
Money that could pay for textbooks and technology must be redirected to pay for green beans and whole-grain hot dog buns.
It simply wasn't economically feasible anymore, Kirchner said. "The program is heading in the wrong direction," he said.
So his school board opted out. It will still offer lunch — a healthful lunch, he said — at the same prices.
Children who get free or reduced-price lunches — about 17% of the student body — will still get them at that price.
Only now, the school district will absorb the cost — more than $260,000 a year — rather than use federal funding to cover it.
Schools throughout the nation are grappling with the same decision.