Less waste, more participation….

Nathan Greenberg believes he runs a school district, but government bureaucrats look at his Londonderry, N.H., operation and see …. a food processing plant?

That’s the strange dilemma the 5,000-student district finds itself in after deciding at the end of the last school year to pull the high school out of the unpopular National School Lunch Program. While the district’s elementary and middle schools remain in the program, which sets portion and nutrition guidelines for students, provides low cost staples and subsidizes meals of low-income pupils, it proved immensely unpopular at the high school.

“We saw the [federally-mandated] food going right into the garbage,” said Greenberg. “We had some of the healthiest trash cans in the state of New Hampshire.”

“We saw the [federally-mandated] food going right into the garbage. We had some of the healthiest trash cans in the state of New Hampshire.”

– Nathan Greenberg, superintendent of schools

Before the current school year began in the town of 24,000 neighboring Manchester, the district decided to pull the older students out of the program. Doing so gave officials flexibility in what meals they offered and how they were prepared. The high school now has a new snack room, a coffee bar and a frozen-yogurt machine, and a salad bar is set to open next month. Participation in the school lunch program rose from 29 percent to 33 percent, according to officials.

Greenberg’s goal was not to provide a less healthy menu, but to provide more choices and ensure the food was actually consumed.

“We knew full well that in doing so, we would have to pick up the tab for the [high school] kids who got free and reduced-price lunches,” Greenberg said. “We were okay with that.

“We were able to offer nutritious lunches with greater variety,” he continued. “We have seen greater participation and enthusiasm, as well as significantly less waste.”