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June 18, 2014

School cafeterias undergoing a facelift

Health initiative could carry financial impact

MILLEDGEVILLE — Starting July 1, school snacks and beverages will undergo a number of changes and have quite a different look.

The USDA launched the Smart Snacks initiative, affecting all foods and beverages sold to students during the school day in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, a la carte lines, as well as through fundraising efforts.   

These new standards for snacks and beverages apply to all school campuses.

To prepare for the initiative, Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Geneva Braziel met with school principals to determine what changes must be made for compliance.

"We looked at products we sell in our vending machines including fundraising items that clubs and organizations usually sell each year, and there's a number of changes we have to make," she said.

Smart Snacks will mostly affect items sold at Baldwin High School.

Gloria Thorn, interim nutrition director, said nearly all of the snacks that are currently stocked in the vending machines at BHS will have to be replaced because they do not meet the new nutrition standards.

“We’ve been told that some vendors have a list from the USDA that lets them know what foods and drinks are considered Smart Snacks so this may help in the ordering process,” she said.

Records must be kept of all vendor orders along with copies of food nutrition labels.

“The principals are going to be responsible for keeping those records, but the responsibility of making sure all the schools are selling Smart Snacks falls on our shoulders,” Thorn said.

While Thorn said it’s a good initiative, schools may feel the impact financially.

“It’s going to hit the schools hard money-wise,” she said. “You’re going to see more students buying snacks at convenient stores and bringing them in rather than buying them at school.”

Elementary and middle schools snack changes will occur mostly in beverages.

No caffeinated beverages will be allowed at elementary and middle schools under the Smart Snacks nutrient plan. Only water, non-fat and low fat milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice will be allowed.

"From my understanding, the high school will be the only school that will have drinks, but they have to be diet and they can't be caffeinated. Even the diet drinks will be regulated because some may not fit the salt intake regulations," Braziel said.

Diet beverages will be limited to 20 ounces or less. Low calorie beverages will be limited to 12 ounces or less.  

In addition, there will be serving size limits for milk and juice.  

Smart Snacks does not affect cafeteria meals or after school activities. School lunches are already aligned with the new USDA guidelines.

A popular item that the majority of school organizations sell to raise money is Krispy Krème brand doughnuts, which will also take a hit.

"Students can still sell Krispy Kreme, but they can't be given out during the school day," Braziel said. "This affects items being sold during school so they'd have to be given out at least 30 minutes after the school day has ended."

Ice cream snacks that are usually sold during lunch at Baldwin High School will also be cut out, said Braziel.

"Right now we'll have to sell what's left in our inventory because we won't be allowed to sell them during lunch after July 1," she added.

Thorn said Smart Snacks is better for the students because teaches them how to eat healthier, but the initial struggle will be getting kids to adapt.

“It’s going to take a while for students to get used to the change. Anytime you introduce something new into their routine it will take some time for them to adjust.”

Jamie Marshall, a parent of rising senior at Baldwin High School, has mixed feelings on the initiative. She is glad that healthier snack options will be provided by the school, but worries that it may affect fundraising.

“Honestly, I’m thrilled with the idea of schools going healthy,” she said. “As long as they replace the bad with something that is actually healthy and not take everything away completely.”

Marshall said restricting students to deliver fundraising food or beverage items after school may cut down on their sales.

“It seems like my daughter is doing fundraising from the first day of school, and nine times out of 10 it’s food-related. Not every kid or parent can stay after school. You’re pretty much cutting off some of your fundraising money at the knees.”

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