Lunch proposal expected to establish limits

The+Columbia+Public+Schools+Title+I+preschool%2C+located+in+the+RBHS+basement%2C+serves+snacks+to+its+students.+The+United+States+Department+of+Agriculture+recently+released+a+new+proposal+which+may+change+the+influence+school+districts+have+over+snack+foods%2C+possibly+resulting+in+healthier+snacks+next+year%2C+including+trail+mix%2C+diet+soda%2C+baked+chips+and+iced+tea.+Photo+by+Aniqa+Rahman

The Columbia Public Schools Title I preschool, located in the RBHS basement, serves snacks to its students. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released a new proposal which may change the influence school districts have over snack foods, possibly resulting in healthier snacks next year, including trail mix, diet soda, baked chips and iced tea. Photo by Aniqa Rahman

Alyssa Sykuta

[heading style=”2″]Department of Agriculture aims to replace vending machines, à la carte[/heading]
[dropcap style=”2″ size=”3″]S[/dropcap]Six months ago, Columbia Public Schools joined thousands of school districts nationwide in implementing the United States Department of Agriculture’s new school lunch guidelines. These prescriptions include stricter provisions on whole grains, fruit and vegetable servings and calorie minimums and maximums.
One semester later, the changes are still playing a part in everyday student life in the cafeteria, as well as burdening the district nutrition department.
The prescriptions “have been a challenge. Just when we feel we have found a sound menu product, students show signs of fatigue with it after eating it a few times,” Laina Fullum, CPS Director of Nutritional Services, said. “We do feel we are on the right track, though, because even failures tell us something about what we are able and unable to do. We believe that the new regulations are good for students but desire more flexibility in how to fulfill them.”

The Columbia Public Schools Title I preschool, located in the RBHS basement, serves snacks to its students. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released a new proposal which may change the influence school districts have over snack foods, possibly resulting in healthier snacks next year, including trail mix, diet soda, baked chips and iced tea. Photo by Aniqa Rahman
The Columbia Public Schools Title I preschool, located in the RBHS basement, serves snacks to its students. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released a new proposal which may change the influence school districts have over snack foods, possibly resulting in healthier snacks next year, including trail mix, diet soda, baked chips and iced tea. Photo by Aniqa Rahman

In addition to the prescriptions, CPS is also aiming to teach younger kids about the benefits of eating healthy, which led them to obtain a USDA fresh fruit and vegetable grant for five elementary schools. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition and Service website, the fruit and vegetable grant “teaches students about the importance of good nutrition and promotes the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
“In five of our elementary [schools], they have a fresh food and vegetable grant from USDA that we applied for and they all get, every student in those schools gets a fruit or vegetable snack that … nutrition services provides,” CPS Nutrition Educator Janie Garrett said. Other than that, “we don’t control snacks in the schools at all. So either parents provide them or teachers provide them or kids bring their own snack in.”
However, a recently released proposal from the USDA could change the influence school districts have over snack items. Next year, if the suggestion passes, “baked chips, trail mix, diet sodas, lower-calorie sports drinks and low-fat hamburgers” may replace many à la carte and vending machine items, including “fatty chips, snack cakes, nachos and mozzarella sticks.”
The USDA would limit drinks in high schools to low-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and iced teas, and elementary and middle schools could only sell water, low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice as drink options. While the district does not have control over the vending machines in schools, Fullum said the proposed regulations would still have a large impact.
“Nutrition Services does not run any of the district’s vending machines. The schools themselves do,” Fullum said. “On that front we will not be impacted, but the à la carte items we sell at lunch and breakfast will be affected. À la carte offerings at meals will be limited even more than they already are if these new proposed regulations take effect.”
Whether it be the 50 cent cookies at the front of the cafeteria or the $1 Pop Tarts in the vending machines, the many students who take advantage of the snack opportunities at school may have to do without them.
According to the USDA, schools served 229,887,314 “snacks,” or à la carte items, in 2012. For students like junior Hannah Krogman, who buys school lunch every other day, the choice to eat those snack items, healthy or unhealthy, is important. By limiting the extra food options available, she believes students would be worse-off in the “real world” where no one controls every decision students make regarding food.
“Having all those options out there teaches people self-control,” Krogman said. “So if they’re just going to baby people up until the point where they get to college and then throw them out, what are they going to do when they get to college?”
While Garrett speculates the USDA will not make a decision on the proposal until this summer, CPS continues to struggle with the current prescriptions. One of the biggest challenges the district continues to face is the produce requirements at each meal. The USDA stipulates students must have one half cup of fruits or vegetables with every meal, but Fullum said many students “do not seem to like being forced to take a fruit or vegetable with their meals.” She is disappointed in this, knowing that healthier foods help to fight off chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.
Though some students choose to toss their fruit into the “share basket” after leaving the lunch line, others, such as sophomore Kristen Tarr, make sure to get an apple every day, even when she doesn’t buy a full meal from the school. For her, the opportunity to make healthy food decisions at school is inexpensive and helps her feel better about herself.
“I like having an apple with my meal every day,” Tarr said. “I get my fruit every day from the cafeteria, even when I’m not buying lunch because it’s there and it’s inexpensive. … I think that eating healthy is good because even if you don’t gain a lot of weight, your body just feels really bad after eating unhealthy food. Like every time I eat McDonald’s, my body feels really horrible, and I don’t like that feeling. So I like to make sure my body feels good.”
Whether figuring out how to adapt to the current situation or proposing more health guidelines, the USDA and school districts both aim to find a way to balance keeping students satisfied while providing meals with nutritional value.
Though Krogman supports the healthier food options at school, she hopes the USDA will not control the system too tightly in the future and will allow students the freedom to choose what they eat.
“It’s a good idea to have healthier options,” Krogman said, “but I don’t think it’s a good idea to just strictly limit you to those healthy options only.”
By Alyssa Sykuta
What do you think of all the lunch changes this year? How would the USDA proposal to get rid of unhealthy foods in vending machines affect you?