ED Policy Panel Revises Food Policy
by richard gentilviso
When the Department of Education (DOE) implemented a policy banning almost all fundraising in city public schools via food sales last June, it was not very popular. Now that policy has been revised and the jury is still out.
The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) unanimously voted to amend the regulation at its February 24 meeting to allow the sale of “approved” items only. That is, foods and beverages approved by the Office of School/Food Services and/or purchased through central contracts with DOE. Sales can take place any time during the day as long as they are outside of the school cafeteria.
Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), too, can hold a monthly fundraiser with non-approved food items during the day as long as the sale is held outside the cafeteria.
The DOE has listed 27 specific packaged items approved for sale in city vending machines, in addition to the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables, between the start of school and 6 p.m. on weekdays, according to a report in the February 24 New York Times.
Snacks must meet 11 criteria in order to be approved. Among the criteria: they must be in marked, single-serving packages with a minimum calorie count of 200 and artificial sweeteners are banned. In addition, less than 35 percent of the item’s total calories can come from sugars or fat and grain products must contain at least 2 grams of fiber. Among the approved items are two kinds of Doritos and one kind of Pop-Tart.
Parent groups follow the same rules as students have under the new regulation with the exception of a monthly PTA sponsored cake sale. But no homemade or unpackaged items are on the list of approved foods, so pizza or other homemade dishes are banned. “It’s impossible to know what the content is, or what the portion size is,” DOE Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said in explaining the ban of homemade items in the Times report.
“Good nutrition plays an essential role in health and development and helps young people do well in school,” the regulation states. “Numerous studies have proven the link between nutrition and academic performance as measured by test scores, attendance rates, tardiness, and discipline. [DOE] plays a critical role in helping students learn healthy eating habits.”
The new regulation updates the Wellness Policy adopted by DOE in 2006 in accordance with the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act that requires school districts participating in federally funded school meal programs to develop and implement a wellness policy.
Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a national plan to fight childhood obesity. In accordance with that plan, the new regulation states, “The maintenance of a healthy weight, starting in childhood, is a strong factor in avoiding many of the additional health risks that have been associated with obesity.”
A study conducted at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and published in the Journal of Health Affairs on March 2 found that children snack almost three times a day in addition to their three regular daily meals, and get about 27 percent of their daily caloric intake from salty, fatty and sugared foods, according to BusinessWeek.com. It also said vending machines and “other outlets” at schools made snacks readily available.
In a second study, by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul, also reported by BusinessWeek.com, vending machines were found available in 21 percent of U.S. public elementary schools, 62 percent of public middle schools and 86 percent of public high schools. The study concluded that efforts to improve the quality of food in vending machines or restrictions on food or beverage choices doesn’t hurt school revenues.