Archive for Thursday, August 4, 2005

Junk food to be limited in school lunch rooms

Portion control to be introduced to ala carte menus in De Soto’s schools

August 4, 2005

Even for the school district dietician, it's not easy to stop at a single Otis Spunkmeyer cookie when they come in packages of three in the De Soto High School cafeteria.

"Unfortunately, I've tried and could never eat just one," said Julie McGrath, De Soto USD 232 director of student nutrition.

To help everyone keep snacking in check, the cookies next year will be offered in single packs only.

In response to bill passed in the 2005 Legislature, De Soto USD 232 has begun trimming the fat from its a la carte lunch offerings. Cutting back in junk food portion sizes is a small first step toward developing a child wellness program, which the state mandates be in effect by July 2006.

End-product wellness plans will include physical fitness, nutrition and other health education components -- all aimed at preventing and reducing childhood obesity.

Elementary school lunch offerings are limited, and each day's hot school lunch is balanced according to federal nutrition guidelines. But a la carte menus in secondary school cafeterias have proven one of the biggest dilemmas, McGrath said.

The sale of single-serving soda pop, sports drinks, candy bars, chips and snack cakes generates needed revenue for public school lunch programs, typically self-supported funds. Those sales help districts offer regular school lunches more inexpensively, McGrath said.

It's no secret that most of those items aren't healthy, but eliminating them altogether would also take away revenue and the ability for older students to add a treat to their lunch.

"The idea of a la carte is to be a supplement to the regular lunch," McGrath said. "Even if they generate revenue, I hate to see a kid have a Gatorade and two Hostess Twinkies for lunch. That goes against my grain."

On a quest to put into practice a theory promoted in school health education -- portion control -- the district will offer only smaller sizes of most junk food, McGrath said.

For example, students used to be able to choose between large or small bags of chips. With the exception of low fat, low salt baked varieties, large bags won't be offered, McGrath said.

At the middle school level, soda pop and sports drinks will be offered in 12- or 16-ounce portions for whichever products those sizes are available. At the high school, however, many students rely on the drinks to get them through after-school sports practices, so 20-ounce drinks will stick around there, McGrath said.

Also, there will typically be fewer varieties of snack cakes on cafeteria shelves at any one time.

Although McGrath already moved to make the portion changes in De Soto's school lunch program, she said she planned to work with district physical education and curriculum staff during the upcoming year to help develop a comprehensive wellness plan.

The new legislation includes instruction to the Kansas State Board of Education that will trickle down to individual school districts.

The bill requires districts to provide students with healthy foods and drinks, physical activities and wellness education with the goals of preventing and reducing childhood obesity.

A concurrent resolution, No. 1604, described the impetus behind the wellness program requirement: "Kansas as well as the rest of our nation is experiencing an epidemic of child and adolescent obesity. In addition to our children being overweight and physically inactive they are becoming increasingly subject to acquiring Type II diabetes, a disease once associated with adults."

The legislation cites increased calorie intake with decreased physical activity as the culprit.

Envisioned wellness programs should help students develop healthy eating patterns and good exercise habits that will remain with them throughout their lives.

McGrath admits, the Otis Spunkmeyer cookies at De Soto High School are very good. But that's precisely why students -- and even staff -- may need help with portion control. The district's new plan will help make a good choice for them.

"If a kid just wants one, they won't have to buy three," McGrath said.

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