A new round of federal school food restrictions are forcing districts across the country to ditch popular and profitable school snacks in exchange for “healthier” options recommended by First Lady Michelle Obama.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snack” rules – the latest aspect of the school food overhaul imposed through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – took effect July 1, and school officials are scrambling to comply with the new restrictions on calories, sodium, fat, sugar and other nutritional qualities of school a la carte items and vending machine fare.
The school food changes are the First Lady’s pet project, which she contends is a concerted effort to crack down on childhood obesity. But school food directors in Pennsylvania are raising a number of concerns, from significant lost revenue to added work necessary to comply with the overbearing regulations.
“I’m just overwhelmed with all of the things we have to do,” Lampeter-Strasburg School District Food Service Director Anna Donato told Lancaster Online.
At Solanco High School, M&M cookies are now whole grain rich, and bags of Frito-Lay Sun Chips have been downsized and mixed with pretzels to comply with the sodium limit. School officials were also forced to stop selling 1% chocolate milk and replace it with a fat-free variety half the size, according to the news site.
Before the new rules, the district sold 100 bottles per day.
Solanco Food Service Director Matt Kirchoff is worried about what the changes will mean for cafeteria revenue, but said he hasn’t noticed a decline … yet.
“We don’t get too down about it,” he told Lancaster Online.
Other area school officials contend the federal regulations are costing schools far more than they should, and have opted to forfeit as much as $150,000 in federal funding to preserve autonomy over what students are served.
Manheim Central and Manheim Township schools both recently decided to ditch the National School Lunch Program for high schools over concerns about declining lunch sales, and meeting the nutritional needs of a diverse student body – particularly student athletes – under “one-size-fits-all” rules.
“If we are unable to serve some students extras I predict they will pack and not enter the cafeteria lines,” Manheim Central Food Service Director David Ludwig wrote in an email to Lancaster Online. “Our students all have different needs. For this reason variety is needed.”
Ludwig also raised issue with the potential for lost sales, pointing out that French fries alone bring in $16,476 per year but would be banned under the new rules.
Food Services Director Gavin Scalyer said Manheim Township opted out in part because the rules just don’t jibe with how the district does lunch.
“He said the school offers more than 10 ‘restaurant-quality salads,’ which student purchase as entrees. Since they are classified as a la cartes, … some of the salads wouldn’t meet calorie restrictions designed to apply to side items,” the news site reports.
The problems in Pennsylvania are only the latest to make headlines since the lunch overhaul took effect in 2012. Over 1 million students have stopped eating school lunch. The new rules also require all students to take a heaping helping of fruits and vegetables, which created over $1 billion in food waste as most students toss their greens in the garbage, according to reports.