Healthy menu hard for some to swallow
Marc Valero | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Proposed stricter school lunch standards would cut candy bars and sugary cookies from the serving line in favor of baked chips and other healthier offerings.
Published: February 5, 2013
Published: February 5, 2013
Under new rules the Department of Agriculture proposed recently, school vending machines also would start selling water, lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and baked chips.
Fatty a la carte items like mozzarella sticks and nachos would have to be switched to healthier pizzas, low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups and yogurt.
School Board of Highlands County Food Service Director Martha Brown said about three or four years ago the sodas in school vending machines were switched to diet only. The machines also have waters and juices.
A la carte items are already scheduled, in the next year or so, to comply with stricter nutritional guidelines, including lower fat and lower sodium content, she said.
About three-fourths of Highlands County students are considered low-income and receive free or reduced-priced lunches. Most of the district's food budget, about $5 million, comes from the federal government to pay for reimbursable meals — those considered free and reduced.
Brown thinks that local students would not be impacted as much from the paid a la carte nutrition changes as more affluent districts such as Volusia and Seminole counties.
The a la carte sales, which include students who pay the full lunch price or students who pay for the other side items, in contrast, totals about $600,000 annually.
If the proposed standards were put into effect, the district would have to reduce the size of its 3-ounce hamburger, Brown said. The current limits on regular meat are 10 ounces in a week or a 2-ounce burger a day.
Sebring High School ninth-grader Mariah Brewington had a chocolate chip cookie and a single-serving bag of Cool Ranch Doritos Monday with her chicken sandwich at lunch. She had no fruits or vegetables.
Would she be OK with Doritos being cut from the lunch choices?
"No, I like my Doritos," she maintained. Brewington eats the flavored tortilla chips about three times a week.
"The cookie I only get maybe once every two weeks, but my Doritos — I like my Doritos," she said.
Sebring High School ninth-grader Rodrigo Emilio had two of the large chocolate chip cookies with his chicken nugget lunch.
What would happen if the cookies were eliminated?
He would have to bring his own snacks, Emilio said.
"I couldn't live without my cookies. Every day I always eat at least two cookies," he said. "I need something sweet every day."
Healthy school meal initiatives are not embraced by all students.
Starting this school year, students receiving free or reduced-priced school lunches were required to take at least one fruit or vegetable with their lunch, in accordance with a new rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program.
During the ninth-grade lunch period on Monday, Sebring High custodian Standford Stone watched as a female student threw out an unopened container of salad.
"Some like fruits and some don't like fruits," he said. "In the morning time they are not eating much of the fruits or juice; they leave them. I don't know how you get them to drink juice. I think they want soda rather than the juice."
Brown said more students are taking fruits and vegetables. Soon the district will offer dried fruits. Last month the district offered local fresh tangerines.
Comments from parents and the community were mixed on the proposed stricter federal school meal guidelines.
Commenting on Facebook, Lynn Shumard of Lake Placid said: "I pay for my daughter's food; I don't get it free, so she should be able to eat whatever she wants. She is skinny and eats good food, but I don't want anyone telling me what she can eat if I pay for it."
Nicki Walker thinks the proposed changes are a great idea.
"Then my kids will be eating the same way that they do at home — no soda, no candy and no greasy foods," she said.
Jackie Welch of Lake Placid said: "This is very controversial. I am all about proper and healthy eating in schools. However when it comes to teenagers in high school most of the unhealthy foods are sold on an a la carte bar and they pay cash for them."
Matthew Adam Byrd, of Sebring, said: "If we are going to feed kids, do it properly. We have enough people on Medicare and Medicaid because of obesity and diabetes."
Linda Salerno Laframboise, of Sebring, remembered how she didn't have a choice on what they could eat in school.
"We ate what they gave us," she said. "But it wasn't bad food. There were no video games and computers keeping the kids indoors. We didn't have to worry about the kids playing outside either."
Laframboise didn't think students were going to eat "dragon fruit and squash."
"That is money going down the drain," she maintained. "Yes, limit the junk food, soda and candy, but also remember that lunch at school is the best meal a lot of these kids get. Make it count for them."
Under the proposal most snacks sold in school would have to have less than 200 calories.
Elementary and middle schools could sell only water, low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
High schools could sell some sports drinks, diet sodas and iced teas, but the calories would be limited.
Drinks would be limited to 12-ounce portions in middle schools and 8-ounce portions in elementary schools.
Schools, the food industry, interest groups and other critics or supporters of the new proposal will have 60 days to comment and suggest changes.
A final rule could be in place as soon as the 2014 school year.
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