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Federal nutrition guidelines to impact local schools

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent
 

  Some significant changes have been made on school menus in the past couple of years at Henry County’s public schools, and even more major changes are coming in the next two months that will impact all food sold on school campuses.

  A new policy governing what items can be sold in school vending machines is under review and will be considered for adoption by the school board next month, but the rules behind the policy are federally mandated and must be followed, according to Judy Hogg, direction of school nutrition for the school system.

  Schools have already been working on compliance with the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act by phasing in new standards in school cafeterias on such things as sodium content. Also, all schools in the district are already 100 percent whole grain, Hogg said.

  The USDA’s new “Smart Snacks in Schools” initiative is the impetus for the vending machine policy, and it takes effect July 1. All schools nationwide that participate in the national school lunch program are required to abide by these new guidelines.

  “Everything that is sold on campus during the school day must comply with that rule,” Hogg said, adding that for these purposes the school day is from 12:01 a.m. until 30 minutes after school is dismissed in the afternoon.

  Anything sold at school must have nutritive value; the first ingredient must be a real food (whole grain, fruit, vegetable or dairy product) or have 10 percent of one of the major nutrients. If a food product meets that criteria, then it must be rated on its fat content, sodium content, number of calories and sugar content.

  All of these guidelines must be met for a food product to pass muster and be allowed, which means a lot of study and research for Hogg and her staff.

  “People think we just sit back here and make menus,” she said with a laugh. “There is a lot that goes into this.”

  Perhaps the most obvious item that will be missing this fall at local schools is the Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit, an extremely popular breakfast item which is sold before classes at most schools in the district as a fundraiser.

  “The number-one moneymaker for our high schools has been the chicken biscuit,” said Hogg. “Those have been sold just about every day the past few years.”

  The actual biscuit Chick-fil-A makes is not whole grain, which by itself is a disqualifier under the new guidelines, she said. Even if that were addressed, the breading on the chicken would have to be whole grain and the other nutritional requirements on the chicken itself would have to be met as well.

  Drink machines can remain open during school hours if the drinks are 20 ounces or less and contain zero calories. Officials at Coca-Cola and Pepsi have seen these regulations coming for some time and taken a proactive approach to be prepared for the changes, Hogg said. PepsiCo owns Frito-Lay, which makes many of the snacks offered in vending machines. Mayfield Dairies also made changes to some of their ice cream products to make them fall within guidelines.

  Soft drink requirements apply to older students. Elementary students can only have milk, juice and water during school hours.

  High schools can still sell coffee, which has become increasingly popular in recent years with that age group, but the fat and sugar content must be monitored, Hogg said. There is no regulation regarding caffeine.

  The state is looking into giving schools a certain number of exemptions for fundraisers. Under the new rules, students cannot even sell lollipops because of their nutritional makeup.

  A copy of the school system’s proposed new vending machine policy can be found at the web site, www.henry.k12.ga.us.

 

 

©Henry County Times, Inc.