A la carte items were added to the program this year.
The Van Meter School District introduced a la carte items to the hot lunch program in the High School last year and they are definitely seeing the benefits financially.
The current cash balance in the nutrition fund as shown in the packet for the Nov. 16 School Board meeting was at $59,835 after factoring in revenues and expenditures on the October 2016 statement. At this time last year the cash balance was at just $29,945, so it has nearly doubled since last year.
The expenditures did outweigh the revenues. The total revenues from daily sales, interest, miscellaneous sales, vending sales as well as from state and federal reimbursements amounted to $33,800.24 while the expenditures from warrants paid and payroll amounted to $34,532.93.
Van Meter Schools superintendent Deron Durflinger said that he can't recall a time in the last two years that he has heard a student complain about lunch since they started offering a la carte items such as pizza, chips and other snacks and beverages.
"There's probably days you don't like it but you have other things you can eat," Durflinger said.
Drew Gordon, a student at Van Meter High School, sits in on each meeting as a non-voting liaison between the Board and the students and spoke about the lunch system. He said he likes having more options than just the standard lunch, but that students seem to be eating more as well and that they are not eating the fruits and vegetables that come with the standard lunches.
"There are so many kids that every day all they eat is the a la carte stuff though," Drew said. "I sit with a lot of kids that, they'll go up and get two pizzas, Doritos, you know, a rice crispy and one of those little ice drinks."
He said there are some students that spend as much as $10 per day during lunch.
There was discussion among the board about whether or not they could some day limit what the students are allowed to get from the a la carte line, but it was mentioned that many students, when they get the regular lunch options, throw away items that they don't want to eat.
"That's the problem with a typical school lunch, it's like 'here's what you get,' and then a good portion gets thrown away because they don't eat it," Durflinger said. "So as much as we would like them to make healthier choices, I think that's part of what we've got to change within our culture of our school... You can't make somebody eat whatever it is if they don't want to. You're just not, you just can't."
The items that are available for a la carte purchase do meet certain health requirements, such as the Rice Crispy treats, which are of the reduced fat variety. Board member Brian Gordon said that while they can't necessarily force the students to eat healthy, they could offer better options at the a la carte line.
"Maybe that's a question for the student leadership team on how that culture can get changed," Brian said. "What does a la carte look like that kids will still buy the stuff so we can have a healthy fund?"