Fayette students see changes in snacks they may buy or sell during the school day

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 1, 2014 

High school students who are trying to raise money for clubs or other activities generally won't be able to sell candy during the school day this year.

Elementary school children might not get a sodium-filled pickle on their hamburgers, and that extra helping of French fries in the lunch line will be a lot smaller.

That's how new federal nutrition standards, including an initiative called Smart Snacks in School that took effect July 1, are working in conjunction with state rules to change the way students eat.

There have been regulations for several years aimed at increasing students' consumption of healthy foods during the first half of the school day, but Michelle Coker, director of child nutrition for Fayette County Public Schools, said the time frame has been expanded to cover the entire day until 30 minutes after the close of school. If food or beverages are sold and are going to be consumed on the spot, they must meet the new guidelines. Lunches or other items students bring from home are not subject to the rules.

At schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, foods sold during the school day must be a "whole grain-rich" product or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein food as the first ingredient or contain certain nutrients. There are limits on calories, sugar, sodium and fat.

Coker said students are likely to notice the changes. Croutons and the breading on chicken nuggets must be whole grains. Before July, an extra helping of fries might be 21 fries; this year that could be 11.

She has been talking to school principals and PTA presidents.

"I am getting a lot of calls" from school officials trying to clarify the rules, she said. "They are trying to get on board."

Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said states may ask for exemptions so they can hold food fundraisers, but Kentucky has not.

A la carte entrees, sides, beverages, and items sold in vending machines or school stores are all covered by the new federal rule, but food sold at after-school sporting events and weekend school events is not.

The rule does not prohibit sales during the school day of foods meant to be consumed at home, such as frozen pizzas and cookie dough, and schools may hold as many fundraisers as they want during the school day that feature foods which meet the Smart Snacks standards.

Kathy Smiley, president of the 16th District PTA in Lexington, said many schools already have chosen fundraisers that focus on physical fitness rather than food.

Some school organizations raise money by having Kona Ice, a company that sells shaved ice, bring a truck to school.

Kona Ice now offers products that meet and exceed Smart Snacks standards, said spokesman Jamie Izaks.

"We completely agree that schools should have healthier options," Izaks said.

Marty Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky School Nutrition Association, said regulations that stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, although well-intentioned, have been enacted too quickly, and without attention to the availability of acceptable products, acceptance of students and the financial consequences to the self-sustaining school meal programs.

"Many food service directors have indicated that for the first time in many years their programs lost money and have been faced with declining participation," Flynn said.

University of Kentucky associate professor Janet Mullins, an extension specialist in food and nutrition, said she had seen research that showed the initial waste that can occur when nutrition standards are implemented normalizes over time.

"You just have to kind of ride it out," she said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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