In July, Batavia School District 101, in Illinois, voted to remove Batavia High School from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to provide students more choices and flexibility in their meals.
The decision was made after representatives from the district’s foodservice provider, Quest Food Service, told board members two of the biggest reasons for the decline in the number of federal program meals sold at Batavia High School are continued restrictions on portion sizes and a lack of student choice in meals.
To make up for the lack of federal reimbursements received as part of the NSLP, this year the district will receive a commission from Quest of the total food sales at the high school. The commission is reported to be 10 percent, according to an article the Kane County Chronicle.
Soon after this move, FM caught up with Lindsay Jannotta, assistant director of finance at Batavia, who has been with the district for two years and oversees the foodservice program to explore the district’s strategy and what impact she foresees as a result of the move.
LJ: Batavia outsources our foodservice program. As required by the NSLP and Illinois School Code, we bid out our foodservice contract every five years. We just entered our third year with our current foodservice vendor.
FM: Can you give us a lay of the land?
LJ: We have roughly 6,200 students. Of those, our total free and reduced population is approximately 20 percent. We serve both breakfast and lunch at six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. We do not have an after-school food program.
FM: Why did you opt out of the National School Lunch Program?
LJ: We chose to opt out of the NSLP in order to provide our high school students more choice and flexibility in their meals. We can now offer larger portion sizes and expanded menu offerings. Our sales at the high school had been declining recently, and we attributed this decline in part due to the new USDA regulations that were implemented in July of 2014.
FM: What led Batavia to rejecting the federal subsidy this year for its high school?
LJ: By removing our high school from the NSLP, it is true that we can no longer claim reimbursement dollars for meals that are sold at our high school. To help compensate for this difference, we will instead receive a percentage commission of total food sales at BHS.
FM: How did you foresee dropping the program hurting or helping?
LJ: As our sales at the high school had previously been declining, we foresee this change as helping to increase sales. We believe students will enjoy the increased variety and quality of foods offered.
FM: What specifically has changed as a result of this move?
Our menu selection has changed. In addition to still being able to purchase the same meal as previously offered, students can now also purchase a premium meal that includes either extra side items or increased portion sizes. We also offer various station concepts including a deli station, pizza station, grill station, as well as a rotating ethnic cuisine station. We’ve been able to expand our menu items to include different types of rolls at the deli station, such as onion and kaiser rolls, which we were previously not able to sell under NSLP guidelines.
FM: What was the feedback from the community at first? And now?
LJ: At first, I think there was some hesitation since this was a new concept for us. However, once we were able to educate the community on how this change could benefit our students, I think the community is in support of our decision. We have heard a lot of positive feedback from both students as well as parents so far within the first few weeks of school.
More options available to students
FM: What does the high school’s foodservice program look like now?
LJ: Students now have more options available to them. The stations that are available to students now more closely represent the food offerings that students typically purchase outside of school. For example both the deli station and taco station allow students to customize their food to their liking, similar to how they would in a restaurant.
FM: Do you still adhere to any nutrition guidelines? And if so, what are they? Who sets them? And how are they applied?
LJ: While we are no longer required to follow the NSLP guidelines that govern the sale of food, we do adhere to our district’s wellness policy. This policy addresses nutritional guidelines and restricts the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value as defined by the USDA. This policy was just revisited at the time that our high school came off the NSLP.
FM: Can you give me an example of how, unbound by the guidelines, you’ve been able to improve your program?
LJ: With fewer restrictions in place, we will be able to implement some of the feedback that we’ve gotten from students. For example, in the past we’ve offered pizza made on a whole-grain crust only. We now can expand our menu selection to include a traditional pizza crust, as well as offer stromboli and calzones.
FM: How does this move affect the price of meals for students?
LJ: If the high school had stayed in the National School Lunch Program, we would have had to increase our base meal price by 12 cents in order to comply with Paid Lunch Equity mandates. We decided to keep this increase for our base meal price. In addition, students can choose to purchase a larger meal for $1.35 more, which includes increased portion sizes or extra sides.
FM: Do you think other districts will follow in your footsteps?
LJ: Yes, I think that as a result of stricter nutrition standards imposed by the USDA, more districts will analyze their participation in the National School Lunch Program.