New food policy draws mixed reactions

By Gillian McGoldrick

Many students at Neshaminy are up in arms about the removal of many of their favorite drinks and snack items from the snack stand offered during lunches. But the school district has reasoning behind these drastic changes: the Department of Agriculture (DOA) requires all public schools in America to follow a new list of heavy criteria for each food product that can be offered in the snack stand, or otherwise known as à la carte items.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is the source that prompted these changes. For every five years, the DOA goes further into a different phase, with the ultimate goal of allowing students to have the healthiest and most nutritious meals possible offered to them. A specific fat content and calorie number are set that each offered snack must fall in between, according to Neshaminy Food Services director, Marie Wallace.

In a phone interview, Wallace said, “When school meals were first initiated, it was started because men were not physically ready for war. Now, we are in the same place because of obesity.” This is not the only reasoning behind the changes in meals and food guidelines, “It is also to introduce new foods that may not be offered at home,” Wallace said.

One of the biggest changes made to foods offered during lunches is that all foods containing breads or grain must have at least a 50 percent whole grain content. “Manufacturers will be working on whole grain products,” Wallace said. “If you give them (snacks) a little time, I think they could be really good.”

Although there is hope for more palatable options, this change has caused upset among many students, including senior Rebecca Lee. “It shouldn’t be necessary that all foods offered in the cafeteria must be whole grain,” Lee said. “I should be able to choose for myself and create healthy eating habits on my own.”

According to Wallace, foods that do not follow the guidelines are not allowed to be offered until one half hour after school is over.

Per each school level, there are specific requirements necessary for each student to have in their diet. High school students are required to have seven cups of fruits and seven cups of vegetables each week, for a total of one cup of each every day.

Students at the high school level are allowed to have no-or-low calorie and caffeinated beverages, on top of 100 percent fruit-and-vegetable juices. Students in middle and elementary schools are only allowed water or 100 percent fruit-and-vegetable juices. This helps remove a significant amount of sugar from student’s diets, district-wide.

Each snack and beverage is to be tested by an Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s “Smart Snack Product Calculator.” The district must manually test each product in this calculator to ensure that each food meets the necessary guidelines before they can offer them to students for purchase. For example, one Strawberry Frosted Poptart is 190 calories, falling under the 200 calorie maximum set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act. Also, this snack meets the requirements for having less than ten percent saturated fats, less than 35 percent sugar, and falls under the max for sodium levels (in milligrams).

Students are so unhappy with the meals that a student has even begun a petition to change meals back to how they were prior to the 2014-2015 school year. Senior Tim Walter began a petition with over 500 signatures, all objecting to the changes made to the snack stand this year.

“I think if people are patient, products will improve and the selection will grow,” Wallace said. “We are not here to punish students.”