WASHINGTON – When Sherwood High sophomore Tiffany Simon went to buy Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies during gym class on the first day of school, they were missing from the vending machine.
So were GrandMa’s Homestyle Fudge Chocolate Chip Big Cookies, the Starburst Fruit Chews, the sour cream and onion chips. The Skittles, the Snickers bars and the Reese’s peanut butter cups were gone, along with the sodas.
In their place was an array of healthy snacks — granola bars, peanuts, pretzels, plain popcorn, trail mix, baked chips, beef jerky, peanut-butter crackers. Sodas were replaced by milk, water, fruit juices.
Tiffany went with the ginger snaps.
“It had ‘fat-free’ or something on it,” she said. “They were nasty, too.”
Montgomery County was one of 19 school systems in the state to move toward healthier snacks for students this year, amid growing reports of childhood obesity and indications that the federal government would soon require schools to make changes.
“Schools have kids for quite a number of hours” and have to do their part to fight childhood obesity, said Patricia Freeman, Baltimore City schools training and communications specialist.
In Montgomery County, that means all items sold in the cafeteria and vending machines during school hours can have no more than 7 fat grams (2 saturated) and 15 sugar grams. Beverages cannot exceed 16 ounces, and fruit drinks must have 20 to 50 percent juice this school year, and at least 50 percent next school year.
The snack attack follows tighter federal requirements on school breakfasts and lunches.
Since 1996, the Agriculture Department’s National School Breakfast and Lunch programs has required that those meals make up one-fourth and one-third, respectively, of a child’s recommended dietary allowances of various nutrients. No more than 30 percent of the calories can come from fat, which has meant using lower-fat cheese for pizza, leaner beef for tacos and baking fries instead of frying them.
Now, schools are looking at the nutritional analysis of snacks more closely, said Cheri Dattoli, Frederick County schools food service officer.
“If it’s high-sugar, high-fat, we’re not purchasing it anymore,” she said.
In June, Congress amended the Child Nutrition Act to require that school systems draft wellness policies that set dietary guidelines for all foods and lay out nutrition education and physical activity goals, beginning July 1, 2006.
The state considered setting standards for school-snack items, but has held off so far.
“It’s very difficult to legislate or mandate good nutrition,” said Kim Kerry, of the Maryland State Department of Education. “We have been working with a number of schools, really wrestling with it, to see if we can give the systems a tool they can use.”
Washington County school cafeteria snacks this year meet the standards the state was considering — no more than 9 fat grams (2 saturated) or 15 sugar grams. The county also swapped whole milk for skim, 10 percent juice for at least 50 percent juice and 16-ounce drink containers for 12-ounce ones.
“Some (students) are asking where their favorite drinks and snacks are, but they understand we’re trying to make the meals more nutritious,” said Gary Dodds, Washington County schools food and nutrition supervisor. “Most of them are happy with it.”
Karen Levenstein, Baltimore County schools food and nutrition services director, switched to baked chips and plain popcorn this year and plans to have kids try sweets with less fat and sugar.
“Our message is that we want the kids to have choices and good choices, too,” Levenstein said. “I think the companies are coming around, so they’re giving us more opportunity to look at things.”
Vendors have made changes to accommodate schools, said Craig Kushner, president of Monumental Vending.
“We had to go out and literally come up with a menu that would meet those (Montgomery County) standards,” said Kushner, whose company sells to numerous Maryland schools. “If they want to eat something now, it is nutritious.”
Some of these nutritious items are also a little pricey.
“They are getting a higher-quality product,” Kushner said. “You get what you pay for.”
Sometimes they are the same snacks, but in smaller sizes so they meet the nutritional requirements.
“They can still have a Little Debbie cake that meets the requirements and have something they enjoy,” said Kathy Lazor, Montgomery County schools food and nutrition services director. “It doesn’t mean these snacks are Styrofoam rice cakes.”
Ice cream is another troublesome issue for several school systems.
“We can’t find any ice cream that meets those guidelines (9 fat grams and 15 sugar), and if it does, it’s too expensive,” said Worcester County schools food service coordinator Scott Blackburn. “What we have done is offer the low-fat frozen yogurt cups and 100 percent juice bars in addition to the regular ice cream.”
“Our stance is more that there are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (foods),” said Karen Sarno, Harford County schools food and nutrition supervisor. “Learn to eat everything in balance to create the whole diet, also reflective of your activity level.
“We think that’s critical — that students see the whole picture and don’t start thinking grams of sugar, grams of fat,” Sarno said.
But Sherwood sophomore Tizajah Doleman was not thinking about “grams of sugar, grams of fat” after buying corn chips from a vending machine. She said she was thinking about sour cream and onion chips — and a lot of them.
“You only get like five chips in the bag!” Tizajah said.
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