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Canton Central may sell food after school, hoping to counter lunch shortfalls


CANTON — Selling cafeteria food after school is one idea being considered by the Canton Central School District to help offset a sharp decrease in lunch sales and to provide students with healthy snack choices.

Like other school districts across the country, Canton Central is experiencing the impact of new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations designed to make school lunches healthier by reducing calories, saturated fat and sodium.

District Superintendent William A. Gregory said the cafeteria may stay open until about 3:30 p.m. for students remaining after school for sports and other extracurricular activities.

Items for sale would include cafeteria drink and snack products, prepacked vegetables and salads, wrapped sandwiches, parfaits and pizza. Students will be able to use their NutriKids accounts or cash to pay for their purchases.

“As we go along, we can change things that may not sell or add things the students might want to request,” Mr. Gregory said. “We’re going to offer healthier foods than are available through our snack machines.”

One food service worker would staff the high school cafeteria after school, and students from all grade levels would be able to purchase items, he said.

Mr. Gregory said that students who stay after school have a long stretch of time between lunch and when they return home at 5:30 p.m. or later.

“We think we’ll at least break even with this and provide a good service for students,” he said.

An average of 144 fewer meals a day have been sold since school started in September, Ella Mae “Bluejay” Fenlong, food service director, reported to the district Board of Education.

“There’s a lot more brown bags in our school than I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Fenlong said. “Students can have twice as many fruits and vegetables, but that’s not what they want.”

Compared with last September, the number of lunches sold decreased from 13,780 to 9,334. This September, there were 15 school days, compared with 18 last year, which accounts for some of the decrease.

Sales of “a la carte” snack items such as chips, ice cream, cookies and bottled water also have decreased because fewer students are walking through the lunch line where the treats are visible.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also sets minimum and maximum calorie levels for lunches. The number of servings of protein, fruits and vegetables and whole grains also is regulated.

For instance, last year, high school lunches were supposed to provide a combined total of 1 cup of fruits and vegetables per day. This year, high school lunches are supposed to include 1 cup of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit. The servings also must include a mixture of different vegetables, including dark green and red/orange, beans and peas, and starch. The required amounts are slightly lower for kindergarten through eighth grade.

At least half of the grains are supposed to be whole grains, which means the district has replaced most of its white bread products with those made with wheat flour. A mix of white and wheat flour is being used to make some items.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are allowed up to 10 ounces of meat or meat alternatives a week, while grades nine through 12 can have up to 12 ounces.

Restrictions on the amount of high-protein foods, such as chicken nuggets, are the biggest concern from students, Ms. Fenlong said. Many have complained the lunch is not filling enough, so they’re still hungry when they leave the cafeteria.

“They don’t get that they have to eat beans,” Ms. Fenlong said.

The soups and meat sauce that previously were popular with students and staff are now off the menu because it’s too difficult to measure how much of each food group actually gets ladled to each person, she said.

“It’s really hard to come up with a menu that meets all the criteria,” Ms. Fenlong said. “I’ve created a four-week cycle.”

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