Maybe it was the pizza that got Brent Craig cheesed. At any rate, it was a tangible example of how new school meal regs would affect the lunch program at the Douglas County (CO) Public Schools.

Craig, director of nutrition services for the district, had been serving a high quality pizza at the system’s nine high schools and the product helped attract an impressive 50-55% student participation (counting a la carte equivalents) to the school cafeterias despite open campus policies in the affluent district outside Denver.

However, new federal requirements limit pizza servings to no more than 350 calories. To achieve that, Craig explained to the Douglas County School Board that he would have to switch out the real cheese he had been using for an artificial cheese that was lower in fat (and, hence, calories).

For Craig, whose school nutrition operation only has six percent of its enrollment qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunches, and less than that in the high schools, the rationale for staying in the National School Lunch Program took a significant plunge with the new regulations. So he asked the school board to allow his high schools to drop from the program.
In late July they agreed. “It breezed through,” he says.

“We very much support the USDA and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” Craig is quick to emphasize, noting that the district will keep its elementary and middle schools in the program. Indeed, under Craig’s direction, Douglas County has been one of the most progressive of school nutrition programs in the country at promoting healthy eating, reducing fat and sugar content, adding whole grains and serving fresh fruits and vegetables. All 83 school sites have Whole Foods Harvest Bars brimming with standard and exotic fruits, vegetables and even vegetable proteins like quinoa and hummus that students are encouraged to patronize with no restrictions.

And until this year, the program has also been able to accommodate increasingly stringent federal school meal regulations.

“When the first round of the HHFKA hit in 2012, we breezed through it,” Craig says. “However, you have to realize that in our high schools, 90-95 percent of our sales are a la carte. That doesn’t mean junk food, but the Smart Snack restrictions in the third round of regs would have crippled us.”