School Nutrition: Making the Grade?
New policies aim to reduce childhood obesity.
Keeping It Local
Specific guidelines are left to the discretion of each state, district and
local school board. But the policies must meet minimum federal guidelines,
which specify, for example, that vending machines be locked during meals, and
not be located in the cafeteria.
"What has worked so well is allowing each local school district to
design their own policies because what works in one district may not work in
another," says Mueller, a school food service director in Bloomington, Ill.
"Having discretion at the local level is key to the success of the
Foundations, cities, school boards, neighborhood organizations, food
companies, and parents across the country were involved in developing the
"Six thousand volunteers -- including dietitians, principals, students,
and parents -- are working together to help implement good nutrition and
quality physical activity in our nation’s schools," says Moag-Stahlberg,
whose organization helps create state teams that develop, implement, and
monitor the school wellness policies.
Parties and Fund-Raisers
Some schools have gone so far as to ban cupcakes during class birthday
parties, Moag-Stahlberg says. Parents and educators are being urged to consider
healthier snack choices for homeroom celebrations.
"There is a groundswell of support for healthier items in the cafeteria,
classroom, vending [machines] and … at fund-raisers," says Moag-Stahlbert.
"It is up to the schools to establish their own nutrition policy with
guidelines that foster healthy choices, and some have eliminated the classroom
parties because it is one of the easier changes to implement."
Schools have taken a variety of approaches to the wellness policies. Some
have focused on nutrients, calories, and/or portion sizes to determine which
foods will be allowed to be sold.
In some schools, the only beverages allowed are water, non-carbonated
calorie-free waters, sports drinks, 100% fruit juice, and 1% or skim milk
(plain or flavored).
For example, the Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a "Guide
to Healthy Vending Machines" for the state's school districts. The model
policy allows snacks that contain less than 30 grams of carbohydrates and 360
milligrams of sodium, are low to moderate in fat, high in fiber, and high in at
least one nutrient in each 1 to 1.5 ounce serving. Foods that qualify include
fruit, nuts, sunflower seeds, certain cereals, granola and oatmeal bars, soft
pretzels, certain simple crackers or cookies, and baked chips.