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National School Lunch Program

Like many school districts across the country, Middle Country Central School District is adjusting to new regulations for the National School Lunch Program, while trying to avoid grumbling from students and their stomachs.

At a Board of Education meeting on Oct. 3, William Kidd, assistant business administrator for the MCCSD, led a presentation on the new regulations, which include calorie restrictions based on grade level, an emphasis on larger servings of fruits and vegetables, and smaller servings of proteins (students in Middle Country can expect to see five chicken nuggets as opposed to the seven they saw last year, for example), and a switch to fat-free or 1 percent milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program provides reduced price and free meals to students in public and private schools nationwide. The new rules, which stem from the passage of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, are the first major changes to school lunches in 15 years. Accompanying Kidd were representatives from Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service management company.

According to Kidd, the district is reimbursed $1.4 million in federal and state funding based on the sale of the regulated meals.

“The school lunch program is self-sustaining when it takes in more revenue than it spends,” Kidd said in an email. “Here at Middle Country, we have been fortunate that this has been the case for many years. All annual meal/food deposits, plus the federal and state funding reimbursements that come from those sales, have allowed the Food Service Program to operate as self-sustaining.”

According to Kidd, the district has seen an increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced price meals over the past few years. This year 2,011 students receive free meals in the district.

Elementary school lunch costs $2, while secondary school lunch costs $2.25. According to Kidd, since last year, the price rose 10 cents for elementary school lunch and 25 cents for secondary school lunch.

The transition has been frustrating at times, Kidd said. Some new options, like a deli sandwich service, which was a success in the schools, had to be revamped because of the new rules — gone are the large deli rolls.

According to Christine Kunnmann, a district manager at Whitsons, there are plans to introduce a new deli station, which will be modeled after Subway and offer students a selection of vegetable toppings since there are no limits on vegetables.

In a phone interview on Monday, Kunnmann said while portions have changed, students are still getting quite a large amount of food. She has been traveling to different districts across Long Island in an effort to educate principals, teachers, cafeteria staff and students about the regulations.

Sue Merims, a food service consultant, said that adapting to the new regulations is “a work in progress.” She said work could be done to improve the lunch’s presentation, as well as offering students more variety and flavorful foods.

After the presentation, board President Karen Lessler said that earlier in the day the board had met with students who vocalized their displeasure with the lunch program. Lessler asked to meet with Whitsons’ representatives to discuss the matter.

“We heard the grumblings,” Lessler said. “… These are serious comments being made by our students.”

On Monday, Kunnmann said meetings were arranged with board members and students to address the issues.

“Now more than ever we need to meet with the student[s],” Kunnmann said in her presentation. “We need to be involved with those students to get their feedback because we know that there are a couple of grumblings out there and we really want to make sure the kids are happy and they understand what is happening with the regulation.”