Our View: Lunch cost hike supports key program | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Lunch cost hike supports key program

The Steamboat Springs School District is increasing lunch prices at the high school and the middle school next school year, and that’s likely to make buying lunch more difficult for some local families. But the price hikes are meant to make the meal program self-supporting, and that’s key to ensure that the new locally focused, healthy menu remains sustainable.

Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert is revolutionizing the way the district feeds students. He works with companies such as Rockin’ J Cattle to offer locally produced beef. Huppert started making as much food as possible from scratch last year and said he finished the school year doing about 90 percent. Locally, school food is much healthier than it has been in the past.

“We did get a good response from the kids, faculty and the parents about the quality of the food,” Huppert said. “They did enjoy it.”

And it’s clear that the nutrition children get at school is important to their development.

“School-based programs have been shown to yield positive results in preventing and reducing obesity,” according to the 2010 edition of Trust for America’s Health report, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future.”

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Also according to the report: “Young people spend more time at school than any other place except their homes. While children are in school, more than 90 percent of them eat lunch, approximately 40 percent have a snack, and close to 20 percent eat breakfast on campus. The food students consume in school can make up as much as 40 percent of their daily energy intake.”

In addition to that, nutrition is a key component to education and should be treated as such. It shouldn’t necessarily be expected to break even financially. But the local efforts to add nutritious food cost money.

Lunch prices will increase next school year, from $3 to $4 at the high school and from $3 to $3.50 at the middle school. That’s a significant increase during a recession. The Routt County Department of Human Services is seeing many more first-time applicants for food assistance, and the department projects that it will allocate more than $1 million in food assistance this year. This is a communitywide problem that requires a communitywide solution.

Still, an extra 50 cents or $1 daily is a small price to pay for ensuring good nutrition now and building lifelong healthy eating practices.

To address the issue and increase participation, the school district plans to do more outreach for the free and reduced-price lunch program. Integrated Community plans to reach out to Spanish-speaking parents this month to encourage them to apply for the program if they qualify. The federal economic threshold is relatively low for this community — an annual income of $40,793 for a family of four in 2009-10 — but more families are qualified than currently participate.

The community should continue to support Huppert’s efforts if they increase participation in the lunch program and minimize waste. He said the number of lunches sold was down overall last school year, mostly at the middle school, and said the high school numbers remain low because juniors and seniors are allowed to leave at lunch, and the students who do stay are more interested in getting a quick bite so they can socialize with friends.

Huppert and the Steamboat schools are working hard to instill positive habits in the youths of our community. Amid the national obesity epidemic, little could be more important. The Trust for America’s Health report offered a disturbing assessment of the possible consequences: “If we do not reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, today’s youth may be the first generation in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents.”

Visit http://www.steamboatschoolfood.com for information about Huppert’s program. Information about the free and reduced-cost lunch program also is available there. Learn more about the obesity epidemic through the Trust for America’s Health report with this editorial online.

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