Lackluster participation in the Springville-Griffith lunch program has pushed operating costs into the red for the first time in a decade, Business Administrator Ted Welch said.

He asked Chris Mangio, district manager for Sodexo, the district’s food service operator, to talk to the School Board last week to underscore the financial and gastric difficulties of meeting the newly instituted Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“The USDA wasn’t very happy with me,” Mangio said about a recent trip to Albany, where she expressed her frustrations. “I told them it’s the first time in history our revenue is not sufficient to cover expenses. We’re not the only district that this is happening to, and if you increase the price of lunch, you can drive more kids from the program.

“It’s very challenging to work through this system and give the kids what they like.”

Average daily lunch participation in Springville is down almost 13 percent since the new nutritional guidelines went into place, with the high school program dropping off most drastically.

The stricter inclusion of more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat items is only part of the reduced participation. Mangio said the 6-inch sub roll used in last year’s lunches is now a 3-inch sub roll. The quarter-pound burger has become a 2-ounce burger and will be down to 1.5 ounces next year.

“The kids don’t like it,” she said, “and in the high school, they notice it.”

Board member Kara Kane vented her frustration, saying that when her child buys a school lunch he comes home “starving.”

Mangio said the official response to such complaints is that children should be encouraged to eat all five portions that comprise a school lunch and, if still hungry, buy more.

New sodium limits, yet to be enforced, will halve the school lunch sodium content from 1420 mg in 2015 to 710 mg by 2022.

“This will drive us for the next 10 years. It will change the face of school lunch,” Mangio said, and add another challenge to the increasingly difficult task of getting children back into the cafeteria lunch line.