MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Any parent will tell you that trying to get kids to eat healthier is tricky business, particularly for teenagers.

So it’s no surprise when kids balk at some of the healthy foods required in the federal school lunch program. But it is a surprise that Wayzata High School responded by pulling out of the program.

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And the move is paying off.

Lunchtime at Wayzata is crazy, with 3,300 students, broken into four periods, at the state’s largest high school.

“It’s probably the biggest restaurant in Plymouth,” said Mary Anderson, the supervisor of the Culinary Express Department for Wayzata Schools.

It’s certainly the busiest, with hungry teenagers fueling up for the school day and beyond.

“We’re trying to make sure they get enough food, because if they are athletes, they are here at six in the morning until at least 6 at night, so they are hungry,” said Sue Johnson, site coordinator for the Wayzata High School cafeteria.

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And that proved to be a challenge, with an 850 calorie cap under the federal lunch program. Not to mention its emphasis on whole grains, and requirement of one fruit or vegetable per tray – regardless of where it might end up.

“We certainly did see an increase in waste,” Anderson said, “because it had to be there, or had to be on the tray.”

Worse yet, participation fell nine percent last year, so the district decided to go it alone.

Kids pay 25 cents more per meal, and the district loses both federal funding and the opportunity to buy lower priced USDA commodities, but so far, the results are encouraging.

“We’re seeing increases between two and three hundred lunches a day,”  Anderson said.

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Wayzata has only opted out of the program in the high school, where athletes need more calories and the kids are pickier eaters than younger students.

Jennifer Mayerle