School food choices

This Monday, October 24, was National Food Day, and the healthy after-school snack food committee of the Healthy Kids for Kingston project used the occasion to draw attention to what it considers a flaw in the local school district’s school wellness policy: limiting the amount of fat and added sugar served in snacks in terms of percentages. Healthy Kids for Kingston is being funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,

“We’re trying to get them to revamp it,” said Laurie Deutsch Mozian, project coordinator of the Community Heart Health Coalition of Ulster County and the committee chair. “It requires the consumer to have information they don’t have,” since labels on food don’t mention how much added sugar there is, she said.

On Monday, members of the committee were at the Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston for an hour and a half in the morning and at ShopRite in the Town of Ulster later in the day. They wanted to see whether shoppers evaluating a food label could ascertain whether the item conformed to the wellness policy.

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Mozian’s committee is suggesting replacing the policy with an alternative based on Choose Something, a more user-friendly set of guidelines developed by the New York State School Nutritional Association.

Ed Carelli, the Kingston district’s food service director, defended the present policy. He said that the Kingston schools were following the guidance of the state education department in using the model from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity. He also noted that a ruling to make that wellness policy law is due to be become federal law next year. By dividing the weight of the sugar or fat listed on the nutritional label — a process that he acknowledged required a calculator — he said one could easily figure out whether the snack item met the standard.

Four years ago, in compliance with state requirements, the Kingston school district had instituted a wellness policy that in part addressed the healthiness of its breakfast and lunch programs as well as its snacks. The policy limits the amount of fat and added sugar in food that is served (although the way of ascertaining those amounts is confusing to some).

There has been improvement. However, limited funds, the huge quantity of food that must be prepared, and other obstacles have prevented the school district from cooking most meals from scratch using whole foods and fresh ingredients.

The policy, probably typical of school-district wellness policies in the county, was modeled after the sample policy of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, an advocate of federal standards and requirements. It requires all the food and beverages sold or served in the schools to meet the nutrition recommendations of federal dietary guidelines. It requires breakfasts and lunches to include a variety of fruits and vegetables, allows only low-fat and fat-free milk to be served, and specifies that half the grains served are whole grain.

Acccording to Mozian, the committee discovered that 40 percent of the snacks sold in the school vending machines are out of compliance with the wellness policy. Carelli claimed the vending machines in school cafeterias did comply. He speculated that Mozian might be referring to school vending machines located elsewhere, such as in the high school’s field house.

Since most kids buy snacks off campus, Mozian said her group does plan to investigate the healthiness of food served from establishments in proximity to the high school.

Getting kids to make good eating choices is “a sticky wicket,” Mozian admitted. “It’s about making choices all day long about what you eat.” She said students in the New Visions BOCES program had conducted three surveys, one at Kingston’s high school, one at a middle school, and a third at an elementary school. The surveys found that kids do have a sense of what’s good for them. Whether they’ll choose an apple over a candy bar is a different matter entirely.

 

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