What was the best part of your day when you were in school? If you were anything like most of America's students, it was probably lunch or snack time, when you could dash down the hall to a bake sale benefiting the girls' volleyball team, the latest natural disaster, or a cure for a terrible disease. For $1.50, you could get a sugar high and donate to a good cause. What could be better? According to President Obama's administration, celery sticks and peanut butter are beating out Rice Krispies Treats and blondies — new regulations are decreasing bake sales in America's schools.
School food standards have already been undergoing change for a few years. Starting in 2012, the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) imposed rules that required schools to include fruit and vegetables in lunches and limit fat and sodium intake, as well as setting out acceptable calorie ranges. What makes this year different? Well, the 2014–2015 school year is the third year of the program's implementation, so new standards are being introduced. President Barack Obama's Department of Agriculture instated "Smart Snacks for Schools" in summer 2014, food quality standards that require snacks sold in public schools to meet certain health requirements.
Smart Snacks isn't the first act of its kind. It's actually piggybacking on earlier FNS legislation. Backed by First Lady Michelle Obama, the USDA passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. The First Lady has been vocal about her passion for healthy food for kids, and everyone else — this week she revealed that her family eschews processed food. Bad news for all of us college students — apparently, cheese dust is not a food.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is focused on "improving child nutrition." The legislation authorizes funding and policy for core child nutrition programs, including the School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. From its website:
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.
This sounds pretty good. So why do we need more legislation about what kids can eat in school? According to the USDA, Smart Snacks takes it one step further by outlining strategies for schools to help them serve healthier food. Here's why Smart Snacks is different from Hunger-Free Kids:
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold to students in school during the school day, including foods sold through school fundraisers. The new Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards will help schools to make the healthy choice the easy choice by offering students more of the foods and beverages we should be encouraging — whole grains, fruits and vegetables, leaner protein, lower-fat dairy — while limiting foods with too much sugar, fat, and salt.
So what exactly are the new limits on fundraisers? Smart Snacks says each state will have the flexibility to determine a certain number of "exempt" fundraisers, where schools will be allowed to sell chocolate lollipops and fudge brownies. But this number isn't specified anywhere in the legislation. To be clear, these rules and their exemptions don't apply to fundraisers hosted outside of school property and school hours — the PTA can sell whatever they want, as long as they don't sell it on campus during the school day.
The USDA recommends fundraisers that sell healthier — and decidedly less exciting — snacks, like fruit. Or you could sell books, jump ropes, or shoelaces, whatever gets your motor running. The possibilities are endless.
But not everyone is as excited as the Obama family about these new rules. After all, so much of America's charity is based on cute kids selling refined sugar. What will fundraising be without that?
Students across the country expressed their disappointment in their newly healthy lunches over Twitter, with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. The new requirement that all grains be at least 50 percent whole grain has not made FLOTUS popular with the young'uns.
And the kids aren't alone — even school administrators disapprove of the new regulations. Some say the rules are so "prescriptive" that they make it difficult to manage the school. Arizona's education chief blatantly told schools to ignore the rules. Some schools are striking back in passive-aggressive ways, setting high numbers of rule-exempt fundraisers. According to Education Week, Oklahoma allows 30 exemptions per semester, which can last up to 14 days each. That's "a loophole big enough for an ice cream truck."
But Michelle Obama is convinced that people will warm up to the changes once they realize they're for their own benefit. In an interview with Cooking Light , Obama said she had faith that kids would learn to love their healthier new diets and grow up to be more focused on wellness.
Change is hard for anybody. And when you’re talking about food, food is really personal. So when you’re telling people to rethink their dietary habits that they’ve lived with all their lives, it’s really personal.... I'm confident that the school lunch changes will eventually be embraced by kids.
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