LAND O’ LAKES – Federal food “smart snack” rules imposed on schools this year are taking a huge bite out of vending and a la carte sales in Florida’s Pasco County Schools, and officials aren’t concealing their opinions.
By the end of September, a la carte sales in the school district had plummeted by $1,300 a day compared to last year, subsiding somewhat to a $938 per day loss in October, the Tampa Tribune reports.
“This is federal overreach at its worst,” school board member Joanne Hurley said at a policy workshop Tuesday.
The smart snack rules represent the most recent round of federal restrictions on foods sold in schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program. The new rules are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a federal overhaul of school food championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Thus far, the federal restrictions on calories, fat, whole grains, sodium and other elements of food sold in schools has resulted in widespread opposition, with many students ditching their mandatory greens or skipping lunch altogether to avoid the bland, unappetizing new cafeteria offerings.
The result has been more than 1 million students dropping out of the program and more than $1 billion in food waste. The situation has gotten so bad for some school districts, officials have opted to forgo federal lunch funding to salvage their cafeteria programs by feeding students foods they’ll actually buy and eat.
It’s also meant school clubs or sports teams that used to sell candy bars or other foods that no longer fit within the guidelines can no longer do so during school hours. That has forced many schools, including Pasco County’s, to shift to other types of non-food fundraisers, which are less popular.
Julie Hedline, director of food services for Pasco County Schools, told the Tampa Tribune that even some of the district’s most healthy a la carte lunch items can no longer be served to students, and there isn’t much officials can do about it.
According to the news site:
A few years ago, Wiregrass Ranch High School started a ‘build-your-own-sub’ line with fresh-baked rolls. Students could create their own 6-inch sandwiches, but those sandwiches could exceed the number of calories allowed by the standards, to they are now verboten, Hedine said.
Land O’ Lakes High had gone one better, pressing its own Cuban sandwiches that definitely exceed the calorie limits, she said.
“No way can we fit Cubans on the menu any more,” Hedine said.
Hedine said the district could work around the sub calories by reducing the portion by half – offering a 3-inch sub – but many items simply won’t make the cut.
At least one board member pointed to one of the more obvious problems many schools are struggling to address with the new regulations – that not all students are created the same, and some, such as student athletes, require a lot more calories than others.
“This is absurdity,” Pasco County school board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said. “It is unbelievable.”
Those who commented on the story seemed to agree.
“High school students could eat a 3” sub in two bites! The federal standards are ridiculous,” Dave Sechrist, of St. Leo, Florida, posted to Facebook.
“The problem with ‘free’ government money is how much it cost,” William Lester posted. “By taking federal funds, local government agencies forfeit the freedom to make rational local choices.”
Jo Marie believes “this healthy push is out of control.”