Healthier lunches are coming with a heftier price tag as school districts struggle to get students to buy meals rich in green produce and whole grains yet short on sugar, fat and salt.
The dilemma has added urgency as Madison and Dane County parents become increasingly vocal in urging better food in the lunch line. Districts are getting creative, making pizzas with wheat crusts and low-fat cheese, for example. But that only goes so far, officials said.
“Try as we might, there are some kids who are not going to eat raw broccoli,” said Robyn Wood, food services director for the Oregon School District, which ran a $50,000 deficit last school year in its $1.5 million lunch program. “They’re not going to buy an apple over a cookie. We serve apples at the high school and kids leave campus and buy cookies.”
The Madison School District has experienced a 35 percent reduction in revenue for its a la carte menu in the past five years after healthier options were introduced as part of a new wellness policy, said Food Services Director Frank Kelly.