A healthy school year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pizza isn’t on the menu every day in Shelby County Schools. Carbonated beverage sales in vending machines are restricted and access to foods of “minimal nutritional value” has been eliminated until the end of the last scheduled class of the school day.

Thanks to mandates by the Alabama Department of Education and the USDA, the food choices at Shelby County public schools are a lot healthier for students this year.

And by next year, both children and their parents will be educated about good food nutrition.

According to Shelby County Schools nutritional education area manager Melissa Donaldson, this past summer President George W. Bush mandated all school districts to have a wellness policy in place no later than the first day of school in 2006.

A registered dietician, she said Shelby County Schools hoped to have that year to

prepare; however, the state mandated an earlier time this summer.

That mandate covers vending machine and cafeteria food offerings as well as items that can be included in school fund-raisers.

And more, birthday parties for students and class rewards won’t include cake, candy and pizza parties as they once did.

Shelby County Child Nutrition Program coordinator Maureen Alexander called the changes a “two-pronged approach, which will not only affect nutrition but physical education.

“You can’t eat right and not be active,” she said.

But along with the changes have come some myths that beg to be corrected, according to Alexander and Donaldson.

“We are not the food police,” Alexander stressed.

According to Donaldson, the only change in portion sizes is that of fried vegetables such as french fries, which were reduced to 3 ounces.

Portion sizes for other foods did not change, echoed Alexander.

Alexander said, however, a la carte items such as snack cakes, oversized cookies and regular potato chips will no longer be offered in the cafeteria.

As to food favorites such as other fried foods and pizza, Donaldson said the idea is to give children a greater variety of choices.

She said children “won’t see pizza on the menu every day.”

Alexander said fried foods will be limited to three times per week by state regulations. But Donaldson pointed out, even the fried chicken is actually oven baked.

Donaldson said the school system is trying to provide a healthy environment not only in the cafeteria but in the classroom, as well.

She stressed the idea behind all the change is “moderation.”

The change in a la carte offerings is already changing the eating habits of children.

Alexander said Thompson Middle School was serving 700 balanced meals out of 1,300 meals sold prior to the change. Last week, she said, the same school served, 1,002 balanced meals.

Alexander said when she asked the lunchroom manager what made the difference, the response was that children had been making a meal of tea and small snack cakes.

Alexander agreed that nutritional healthy food is more expensive, but she said the elimination of small snack cakes from the a la carte offerings has helped the schools to generate more revenues from regular school lunch sales. That, she said, coupled with recent increases in the price of school lunch should cover the cost of the more nutritional meals.

Alexander said the Child Nutrition Program is also educating lunchroom managers and cashiers about the recent changes.

“The kids have been great. We’ve had very few complaints from the students,” said Alexander.

She said fliers about rewards in the classroom and fund-raisers were sent to the schools because Elementary School Coordinator Rickey Darby felt principals needed assistance. She said, however, recommendations for rewards in the classroom are not designed to stop children from celebrating. But she said it doesn’t make good sense to foster healthy nutrition in the cafeteria but not in the classroom.

However, Alexander noted, “All school party policies are different. Every school has a different way of celebrating.”

She said she and Donaldson helped Darby put together the reward recommendation list. And she said food of minimal nutritional value should not be served during the school day.

While Alexander said a Christmas party once a year is not a problem, she said some teachers were rewarding children with candy.

According to Alexander snacks for parties could include juice, Chex Mix, sherbet cups.

Alexander said 65 percent of the adult population of Alabama is over weight or obese.

Donaldson added, “Alabamians are not far behind Mississippi, which is sad.”

Alexander noted that next year ever school will have a “wellness team.” She said the team will include a CNP Manager, physical education teacher and a parent who will work on a wellness plan.

While new regulations don’t allow the sale of items such as doughnuts or candy on school grounds as fund-raisers, Alexander said that does not affect such sales off the school campus. She also said there will be no changes in the high school concession stand sales at sports events.

Further Alexander said, “We have nothing to say about foods brought from home.”

She said of the changes initiated in the cafeteria and classroom, “This is a good change, a healthy change. We are not the bad people who don’t want the kids to celebrate.”

And she said, “We are not the food police.”

But as an example of an alternative reward, Alexander said at one school, a birthday hat was made with birthday candles sticking out of it.

She said that was one way to help a child get attention on their birthday.

While the state Department of Education has mandated changes in Child Nutrition Program, Alexander said schools will not be monitored for compliance this year.

According to the fliers that were sent to Shelby County Schools, the following are examples of what is allowed and what is not allowed in the classroom for parties:

Not allowed: Cake of any kind; carbonated beverages, fruit candy (not 100 percent fruit juice); jelly beans or gum drops; candy corn; candy coated popcorn; and iced cookies.

Allowed are: Raw vegetables with low-fat dip, fresh or dried fruit; a mix of cereal, nuts and pretzels, low-fat ice creams, frozen yogurts and sherbets; low-fat pudding and Jell-O cups; pretzels; 100 percent fruit juice; water and flavored water.

Classroom rewards may include sit by friends, teach the class, have extra art time, read to a younger class, a no homework pass, listen with a headset to a book on tape, play a favorite game or puzzle, a paperback book, stickers, pencils, erases, a video store coup, flash cards printed from a computer and a mystery pack including a folder, sports cards or etc.

Fund raises during the school day may not include candy bars, doughnuts, chocolate and other candies and bake sales.

Alexander said, however, fund-raiser items shipped to the school or directly to the customer, but not distributed at the school are also not affected.

A more expanded list of classroom celebrations and snack ideas and reward incentives has been prepared according to Alexander and Donaldson.

Additional snack items which are allowed include baked chips and reduced-fat dip, fresh apple and caramel dip, reduced fat popcorn, whole grain crackers and cheese cubes, string cheese, fresh cut vegetables and reduced-fat dip or salsa, flavored mini rice cakes, low-fat muffins, plain animal cracker, bread sticks with marinara sauce, peanut butter and bananas, peanut butter and graham crackers, frozen grapes, dried fruit, canned fruit cups (in very light syrup).

According to the state Department of Education Nutrition Policies, school meals must average, for a weekly period, meeting the standards of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that no more than 30 percent of an individuals calories be furnished from fat and 10 percent or less from saturated fat.

School lunches should meet the standard of providing one-third and school breakfast the standard of furnishing one-fourth the Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron calcium and calories.

“This means that while certain foods like pizza cannot be served every day, it can be a part of a healthy diet and may be taken into consideration in meal planning and service.”

Fried potato products and other fried vegetables should be limited and not exceed a 3-ounce serving.

Snack and ala carte items such meet the following guideline per 1 ounce serving:

Less than 30 grams carbohydrate, less than 360 milligrams sodium, less than 10 percent value of fat, contain at least 5 percent, preferably 10 percent daily value of Vitamin A, C., iron or calcium and contain 5 percent daily value of fiber.

More, effective with the 2005-2006 school year no carbonated soft drinks will be available for sale to students during the school day in elementary schools.

Also effective during 2005-2006 at middle schools a minimum of 70 of the selections available in vending machines or school stories must be non-carbonated flavored or unflavored water, 100 percent fruit juice, milk, tea or sports drinks. A maximum of 30 percent can be carbonated soft drinks, but 50 percent of those must be low calorie.

Also effective in the 2005-2006 school year, 50 percent of selections available in vending machines or school stores in high schools must be non-carbonated flavored or unflavored water, 100 percent fruit juice, milk, tea or sports drinks.

And no one on the school campus may provide access for sale for free foods and beverages of minimal nutritional value as unidentified under USDA regulations