School Nutrition: Making the Grade?
New policies aim to reduce childhood obesity.
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.
One point of contention has been the sale of "competitive foods" --
that is, foods sold separately from those available through the school meal
programs, including snack bars, vending machines, and fund-raisers.
Experts say that when there are no competitive foods, kids are more likely
to eat school meals and thus consume more nutritious foods.
"The problem is, schools are strapped for finances and often turn to
selling competitive foods to generate income; yet there is growing concern that
these calories contribute to obesity," says Moag-Stahlberg.
Some schools are foregoing federal funds so they can continue to sell the
profit-making junk foods thought to be one of the many causes of childhood
obesity, Moag-Stahlberg says.
Most states already prohibit the sale of foods with minimal nutritional
value during meal service and certain other times. Such foods include soda
water, water ices (not including those containing fruit or fruit juice),
chewing gum, and certain candies.
The good news, experts say, is that schools can make money on healthier
items, Mueller says. The food industry has responded to public interest in
health by creating and packaging more nutritious snacks.
Mealtime at School
School meals are already required to be relatively low in fat and rich in
vitamins and minerals. Later this year, they will also be required to adhere to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines.