OMAHA, Neb. – School nutrition experts in Nebraska are struggling to comply with new federal snack regulations championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I think we’ve gone too far, too fast,” Diane Zipay, director of nutritional services for the Westside School District told KIETV.com. “And I don’t think it’s a real-world environment. We might have changed the school but we haven’t changed the child or our world.”
The federal snack rules take effect this year for school districts across the country that participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program. They restrict snack foods sold at schools to those with at least 50 percent whole grain, with low sugar, fat and sodium content. Each snack must also come in under 200 calories, according to the news site.
That means a lot of popular snacks are now off the table, including donuts, brownies, potato chips, full flavor pop, candy bars, and most other foods teenagers prefer. Even salt shakers and packets are now illegal.
Zipay told KETV.com the new rules not only greatly reduce the available snack options schools can offer to students, they defy the concept of moderation that’s important for students to learn.
“I want kids to feel like they can have an apple one day and a Snicker’s bar the next. And that’s OK,” she said. “You cannot buy a Tic Tac in a Nebraska school, I checked.”
The new snack rules are a continuation of a federal school lunch overhaul in 2010 promoted by Michelle Obama as a means of combating childhood obesity, but instead of making kids healthier, the new regulations are driving a record number of students away from school lunches.
Recent reports show more than 1 million students no longer buy school lunches because of the new restrictions. The regulations are also creating more than $1 billion in food waste annually because students are now forced to take fruits and vegetables they don’t want.
In many cases, public schools have lost so much in lunch sales district officials have opted to forfeit federal lunch funding to serve students foods they’ll actually buy, and eat. Just last week, Illinois’ second largest school district opted out of the National School Lunch Program, as did two New York school districts, among others.
At Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska, students who don’t have a regular lunch period often eat from the school’s café, which serves a la carte lunch food. Café manager Jackie Cambridge told KETV finding foods that fit the federal snack rules has “been just about impossible.”
Zipay told the news site lunch cooks have had the same problem, and can’t even serve a turkey sandwich to students because there’s too much sodium. There is now a two-slice limit on salami.
The snack regulations have also caused problems for school fundraisers in numerous districts because the regulations apply to any food sold at school during school hours. Cookies and other traditional bake sale fare is too fatty, or has too much sugar to make the cut.
Georgia recently allowed districts to apply for an exemption from the snack rules which essentially allow schools to sell food for fundraisers without regard to nutritional content during about half of the school year.
Nebraska apparently has a similar exemption process in place for school fundraisers for the next two years, but bake sale food likely will be banned after that, the news site reports.