While some school districts are cutting ties with a federally funded school lunch program, local districts say they won't drop the program.
River Forest Community School Corp. food service director Carrie Nowacki said the district has a high percentage of students on the free and reduced lunch program. Some school districts elsewhere in the country report dropping the program because students don't like the food.
"This is a high poverty school district," Nowacki said. "The reimbursement program is important. We would never consider quitting the program because three-quarters of our children might not eat at all."
A year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new meal requirements for school lunches, mandating at least half a cup of a fruit or vegetable per meal. Other changes included incorporating more whole grains, a limit on bread and protein servings and reducing fats and salt. In December, the department eased the 2-ounce-per-day limit on grains and meats while maintaining calorie limits.
The National School Lunch Program reimburses schools in Indiana $2.93 per student receiving a free lunch; $2.53 for students who get reduced lunch; and 28 cents for students who pay for their lunch.
Though the school district remains true to the program, not every River Forest student likes the food or feels the meal is enough to fill them up.
Seniors Zach Hurley, 18, and Alex Ballestas, 19, both football players, say the food is OK.
But they said they don't get enough food.
Ballestas, who was eating a chicken wrap, corn and a portion of pineapples Thursday, said the lunch was good that day.
"We have good days and bad days. Sometimes we look at the food and we don't know what it is," he said.
"We don't get enough food," Hurley said. "They feed us like we're kindergartners."
Nowacki said high school students get more food and calories than the younger students.
Not all rave reviews
Some Northwest Indiana school food service directors say the middle school and high school students turn up their noses at the food more than the elementary students.
Tri-Creek School Corp. food service director Judy Knight said she believes the high school students don't want to be told what to eat.
"They were rude to cashiers last year when they were told they had to take a fruit or vegetable," Knight said. "They are getting more used to it now. Last year, it was a problem. I haven't heard any complaints this year."
Some school districts — including Griffith Public Schools, Lake Ridge Schools and the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township in Hebron — outsource food service to private firm Chartwells.
Griffith food service director Amber Wixson said some of the kids have been "slightly resistant."
Toni Rattray, who oversees the food program in Hebron and Lake Ridge Schools, said neither district lost money as a result of students not eating the food.
The Gary Community School Corp. switched from Chartwells this year to SodexoMAGIC, LLC. A partner in first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, SodexoMAGIC says it offers a variety of fresh and nutritious options.
Gary Schools spokeswoman Charmella Greer estimated about 4,900 students are participating in the food program.
Some Hebron High School students rejected the Chartwells lunch in favor of not eating or making their own lunch. Other students found the meals tasty.
Hebron sophomore Brandon Maksimovich, 16, picked up a bottle of apple juice and a slice of pizza at a recent lunch.
"I don't eat the rest of it. The pizza is pretty good. I usually skip breakfast, have a slice of pizza every day at lunch and have dinner at home," he said.
Junior Danny Wallace, 17, had the chocolate milk, an apple, a salad and a slice of pizza. Wallace, on the school's wrestling team, said he tries to eat healthy foods because he's an athlete.
Junior Matt Frey, 16, said the pizza is too greasy, and he doesn't eat lunch unless a vegetable he likes is available.
Duneland School Corp. food service director Kay Nallenweg said the response to the cafeteria food varies with the age group.
"Our seventh- and eighth-graders are less responsive," Nallenweg said. "They are the most leery. They will throw it away. There is a lot of waste, but we absolutely would not get out of the federal program."
Nallenweg said the high school students don't seem to have a problem with the food.
"With all of the emphasis on childhood obesity, parents are serving healthier food at home," she said. "By the time they get to middle school, they'll be OK. I think they are going to grow up expecting to get the healthier food."