School lunch program at odds with federal mandates
June 05. 2014 10:05AM
Brandon Valley’s school lunch program is at odds with the White House – or at least with the new federal guidelines that mandate more fresh fruits, whole-grain and low-sodium foods and fewer “competitive foods,” such as cookies.
“We’re working against the White House right now,” Gay Anderson, BVSD’s director of food services, told the school board last week. Brandon Valley, like thousands of other school districts across the country, is asking for leniency on some of the new policies that will ultimately affect the food service department’s bottom line.
“I definitely want to offer a healthy, nutritious meal, but I also want to offer ‘extras’ for those kids who are still hungry,” Anderson said.
Early last week, First Lady Michelle Obama publicly took on lawmakers, food companies and lunch ladies who say the school lunch law she championed nearly four years ago is leading kids to brown bag it.
And the attempt to scale back new nutrition standards for the federal school lunch program is unacceptable, Obama said. She criticized lawmakers for playing “politics with our kids’ health” and suggested they were trying to “roll back everything we have worked for.”
“It’s unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but also as a mother,” she said.
The law is being challenged in Congress by the School Nutrition Association, a coalition of school officials and the food companies that sell mini-pizzas, yogurt, pastas and chicken nuggets to schools. Its industry members include Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola, Chobani Greek yogurt and Tyson Food Service, according to the group’s website.
Late last week, the federal Agriculture Department said some schools (those who are operating in the red) will be able to delay adding more whole-grain foods for up to two years to their meal programs.
Anderson said Brandon Valley will not be asking for that waiver.
“The whole-grain pastas,” Anderson said, “I won’t even use it until I’m forced to.”
School lunch personnel have complained that whole-grain rich products on the market fell apart during preparation and service and did not hold together well when cooked in large quantities in their kitchens.
Besides making changes to the school breakfast and lunch offerings, Anderson said classroom parties will also be revamped. Until now, teachers have taken it upon themselves to read labels – to avoid allergic reactions – when party treats are brought into the classroom.
But those “party treats” and other food rewards – candy, for example – that teachers have been using as prizes/awards for years, will be a thing of the past beginning this fall. Anderson has asked for the school board’s support on implementing a no foods/snack policy in the classroom, which includes classroom holiday parties and student birthdays. She’s already received support for a change to the policy from school building administrators.
“Instead of rewarding kids with food, there needs to be other alternatives,” she said.
The district addressed concerns about student food allergies in the last decade, however, there is no written policy on prohibiting classroom party treats/rewards.
“The big part of this is following the new regulations,” Anderson said. “But administrators have said we will still have parties, just in a different way.”
The morning milk break at the elementary schools will be the one exception of allowing a food product in the classroom.
“The reason being is that not all kids eat breakfast,” she said.
The morning milk break was started before the district began offering a breakfast program.
One school board member said he feels kids need more than a carton of milk to start their day.
“Milk just doesn’t fill a kid up,” said board member Gregg Ode. “They need something more.”
Board member Sandy Klatt questioned how the district could get kids who do not eat breakfast at home to eat the morning meal at school.
Ode also questioned the percentage of students that do not eat breakfast at home or at school.
Anderson said she tracked those numbers during the 2012-13 school year, and estimates 30 to 35 percent did not.
“That is great potential for my program,” she said.
Anderson said the food services department will continue to promote eating breakfast in a positive way. The Fuel Up to Play 60 is one avenue they’ve used in the past and plan to build on.
Eliminating “competitive foods” from the food service department will also impact the food service program’s bottom line. “Everything that the foods department sells, like the standard big cookie, for example, we will no longer be selling,” Anderson said.
That portion of the guidelines will also impact fundraising endeavors and sponsorship signage in school buildings, which prohibits promotion of fast food restaurants and soda pop companies, for example. The scoreboard rule, Anderson said, talks about eliminating anything related to Coca-Cola or Pepsi, for example.