The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 6, 2013

USDA cracks down on school snacks

Districts adjust to new school lunch rules

By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Students will no longer be able to gobble up their favorite unhealthy snacks as the USDA sets strict guidelines for snacks at schools.

While many local schools have already implemented changes from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 and the National School Lunch program, a new proposed rule will address snacks beyond the regular school lunch.

Vending machines and a la carte options slipped through the cracks in the new school nutrition standards, but the “Smart Snacks in School” proposed rule would require more healthy options outside of school lunch.

Clinton schools will see little changes if the rule is passed. The district has already made changes to a la carte options, making them compliant with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requirements, according to Food Services Director Jeff Weaver. Students have adjusted to the changes for the most part, but many are still not rushing to eat the healthier items.

“There has been a decrease in the volume of snacks consumed,” Weaver said. “Kids want their favorite snacks, many of which don’t meet the requirements.”

Under the proposed rule, any food sold in schools must: (1) Be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food, a “whole-grain rich” grain product (50 percent or more whole grains by weight or have whole grains as the first ingredient), or a combination food that contains at least one-fourth cup of fruit or vegetable; or (2) Contain 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of a nutrient cited as a public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or fiber). In addition, snacks must meet specific requirements for calories, sodium and sugar.

The Clinton School District also changed their vending machines to meet the requirements in 2010 and got rid of soft drinks long before the plan went into affect. Clinton High School has 11 vending machines, but not a candy bar, fried food or sugary beverage in sight.

“It is really a positive thing,” Wellness Teacher Barb Brondyke said. “It teaches students to make better healthier choices and gives them exposure to things they may have not tried otherwise.”

Implementing new changes is not quite as easy for some of the smaller school districts. River Bend School District Cafeteria Manager Peggy Kilburg constantly has to change foods offered on a tight budget and limited storage space. When the changes started, the district took away a la carte options with the uncertainty of how those items would be affected by the regulation. A few months ago the district wellness committee met to bring options like protein bars, granola bars and baked chips back. Unfortunately the protein bars do not make the cut with the new guidelines.

“Now we have all these protein bars and we can’t serve them,” Kilburg said.

Students at Fulton High School have the option to opt out of getting the actual lunch and just get a la carte options. River Bend Middle School students must get the actual meal, but have the option to purchase additional a la carte items. There is only one vending machine in Fulton High School and it only holds water. River Bend officials are making a point to make it an easy transition for students.

“We want to reach a middle ground for the kids,” Superintendent Chuck Holliday said. “We want to make sure we have food they enjoy and make sure it’s healthy.”

Camanche School District only turns on vending machines after school to offer snacks to students involved in after school activities.

The machines offer a variety of approved health foods and low calorie sports drinks. Camanche High School and Camanche Middle School boast a wide variety of fruit and vegetable options and Camanche Elementary School recently got a fruit and vegetable bar.