STUTTGART, Germany — For nearly three decades, the student grill at Patch High School has been serving up bratwursts and burgers during lunch. But earlier this month, the long-running tradition came to a sudden end.

Two weeks ago, school officials learned that the grill, which raised funds for the school’s Junior ROTC program, was in violation of a DODEA rule that prohibits the sale of nonlunch-program food during the meal period.

“It’s something that we’ve been doing for 27 years. It’s been our life blood,” said Jack Wayne, a Junior ROTC instructor at Patch, lamenting the loss of the tradition and the money it brought to the program.

On Dec. 8, the Department of Defense Education Activity issued a memorandum to schools, stating that “no foods shall be sold in competition with the Student Meal Program during meal periods.” The policy also prohibits the sale of food 30 minutes before and after mealtime.

The rule, which for years has not been enforced, isn’t about eliminating competition with the school lunch program, according to Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. Rather, it is a way to ensure that nutritional standards are being met, said Margret Menzies, a DODDS-E spokeswoman.

“Childhood obesity is a horrible problem in the U.S. It affects a lot of people,” Menzies said. “I know it’s not being received well right now, but this is a good thing.”

At Patch High, it seems the idea is still taking some getting used to.

“I think it’s kind of outrageous,” said sophomore Jon Lightner, who said several student organizations have been affected by the ban.

While the Patch grill program appears to be the most elaborate and long-standing fundraising activity to be affected, other schools also have a tradition of running small food-related fundraisers. Events such as Taco Tuesdays and brownie sales have been a staple at schools for years.

DODDS officials emphasize that there are many ways for students to raise money for their extracurricular activities, such as selling items at the school store, running an errand service and having holiday-themed sales.

“Students just need to be a little creative,” Menzies said.

However, Drew Penrod, a sophomore at Patch, said food sales are the big moneymakers.

“The school band made a lot of money from selling pizza,” Penrod said. But like the Junior ROTC grill, the band’s Pizza Wednesday program is no more.

At Patch, members of the Junior ROTC program are planning to seek a special exception to policy to continue their fundraising effort. To receive a waiver, a school must file an appeal to its district office. From there, the request moves up the chain. Ultimately, the decision whether to grant a waiver is made at DODEA headquarters.

But if the Patch grill is to cook again, organizers must first modify their menu in the bid to reopen, according to DODDS-E.

Since 2007, DODDS-E districts participating in the National School Lunch Program have been required to create a local wellness policy that promotes student health and confronts the problem of childhood obesity. In the case of the Heidelberg district, which Patch falls under, that means no junk food.

The policy doesn’t prohibit specific foods, but sets dietary standards based on U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for calories, portion size and fat levels.

“The ROTC group has to change some of the things they sell to meet the guidelines. One of the offenders they sell is Coca Cola. That doesn’t meet any policy,” Menzies said. Leaner bratwursts with less sodium could be required as well, she said.

But as Lightner noted, anyone looking for a nice greasy lunch can just walk right around the corner during lunch break to the post’s various fast food joints.

“We just go to Burger King,” he said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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