Port Richmond High School, my alma mater, used to have one of the best culinary programs of any New York City high school. It was never more evident than when you walked out of the main stairwell onto the second floor, right in front of the culinary room, and smelt the world’s most delicious cookies being baked.
For one dollar you could get two cookies. Either chocolate chip, my personal favorite, sugar or peanut butter, those were your options. They were sold in the school store and out of the culinary room in between classes. They were heavenly.
At I.S.72, my middle school, our vending machines were filled with numerous different kind of chips and pretzels. And as an elementary student in P.S.26, every Friday was ice cream day, still, to this day, my favorite day of any school year.
Starting July 1, schools across New York state will implement new federal guidelines that are going to remove all these delicious treats from the campus.
The standards require foods to be rich in whole grains, and the first ingredient must be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein. The guidelines also limit calories, fat, sodium and sugar content.
No more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat per item as packaged or served and zero grams of trans fat per item as packaged or served are both rules in the new guidelines. Also included in the new guidelines is that a snack item or side dish served a la carte, must contain no more than 200 calories per item. This includes butter, cream cheese and salad dressings.
Beverage requirements are broken down by school level, elementary students are allowed to have plain water, low fat unflavored milk, nonfat flavored or unflavored milk and “nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives,” full strength vegetable or fruit juice that can be diluted with water. Aside from water, all beverages are limited to eight ounces. Middle schoolers follow the same guidelines, but they can have 12 ounces. High schoolers can indulge in calorie-free flavored and/or carbonated water and other calorie-free beverages. Beverages containing caffeine are also permitted.
Now, these guidelines only apply to food items and beverages being sold in the cafeteria, school store or school events, such as fundraisers and bake sales. And I’m all for being healthy, but give me a break.
I seem to remember NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg being criticized for trying to ban 32 ounce Big Gulp and other sugary drinks. If my memory serves me, that didn’t go over too well, something about taking away our right to make unhealthy decisions. Yet, here we are again, telling schools what they can sell in order to impose a “healthy lifestyle.”
Let me tell you something, healthy lifestyles don’t just happen in the kitchen. Yes, that it a huge part of it and I applaud the effort, but what about a daily 30 minutes of exercise?
You can regulate all the sugar and calories you’d like, but when little Sally goes home, pops open a bag of Cheetos and plays Candy Crush on her phone for the next three hours, what are we really teaching her?
Instead of selling these foods in schools, how about we explain the importance of portion control and a balanced diet. Because if I could go back to Port Richmond and eat those cookies again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And then go for a run to burn off those calories.
Sidenote: I found a website that calculates whether your food would be allowed to be sold in New York schools, check it out: https://schools.healthiergeneration.org/focus_areas/snacks_and_beverages/smart_snacks/alliance_product_calculator/