Northwest Suburban High School District 214 has voted to join a small number of suburban schools no longer following USDA guidelines for school lunches, deciding this week to drop out of the National School Lunch Program.
The District 214 school board unanimously agreed, meaning that the more than 12,000 students will not abide by the new, healthier national guidelines starting next school year.
During a board discussion two weeks ago, district officials said the national changes have gone too far and become too strict, to the point where students likely won't eat the food that's available.
The move was prompted by a new "Smart Snacks in Schools" law that goes into effect July 1. The law will mandate what can be served, not only for reimbursable meals, but for all food made available in the morning, during the school day and 30 minutes after school ends.
This includes food sold at fundraisers like bake sales, food in vending machines and school stores and school breakfast.
Christine Frole, director of food and nutritional services for District 214, said the new standards prevent common items such as baked goods and a la carte snacks, but also hummus, hard-boiled eggs and nonfat milk more than 12 ounces.
Through a series of taste tests and focus groups with students and staff, Frole came up with a new meal plan that she said will give students more choices, but still focus on health.
"We are committed to serving nutritious meals and snacks while providing the variety to keep students satisfied," she said.
District 214 will lose money by dropping the national program, but officials think they would lose more with the new guidelines, as they doubt students would buy the healthier foods.
Last year District 214 received $900,000 in federal reimbursement through the National School Lunch program.
Officials have said they will make up the different in the budget by tightening corners elsewhere.
Students who qualify will still receive free or reduced price lunches. The district will still participate in the USDA-funded Special Milk Program, which provides reimbursement for milk bought, officials said.
Other local high school districts have opted out of the program in recent years including Maine District 207, Glenbrook District 225, Niles Township District 219 and Stevenson District 125, Frole said.