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Sherman Says: Standards for snacks in schools have Betty Crocker on the run

SPRINGVILLE — School vending machines and cafeteria counters will offer more healthy selections in the future and, while some may view the change as another intrusion by the government into our private lives, the change will be good for us.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced its ruling, to eliminate the sale of all junk food in public schools. Part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act, this decision was championed by many legislators, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, in a drive to reform child nutrition standards.

Most adults will agree that soft drink machines are out of place in the elementary school world and possibly in the middle school domain, as well.

Enforcing a ban on the sale of junk food and/or soft drinks in high schools, however, will be difficult in any environment that tolerates outdoor smoking.

“If our children are going to succeed and meet their full potential in the classroom, they need access to healthy meals in the lunchroom,” Gillibrand said. “Eliminating junk food from schools and offering healthier snacks is the right thing to do, to keep our children healthy and on a path to success.”

Enlightened school board members across the state are taking a fair, yet cautious, approach to new restrictions, regarding what can be offered in New York schools. Wary of being labeled “the food police,” they are open to suggestions and comments from parents and students, alike.

They are also walking the thin line of political correctness, being respectful of dietary restrictions that are part of religious and cultural traditions.

Equally challenging to the new health kick, is the American tradition of parents bringing cupcakes to school, in honor of children’s birthdays.

Will the Senate bar Betty Crocker from recess? Who celebrates their birthday with a bowl of carrots?

“The USDA’s proposal preserves the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like occasional fundraisers and bake sales,” said a release from Gillibrand.

What makes these events special is the fact the main course is, in fact, a reward, something that is not offered on a daily basis. The birthday or other special occasion is enhanced by a dose of sweetness that is normally not available, on other days.

Bake sales, which ironically are staples of election days in school buildings, are also exempt from the new healthy approach. What school has not kowtowed to the pressure of authorizing the sale of candy bars for the benefit of a band trip, hockey team or class project? They are convenient quick-sellers and produce a profit faster than the likes of wrapping paper.

No one eats wrapping paper, no matter how healthy it may be.

The USDA proposal promotes the availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein, as their main ingredients. It also ensures that snack food items are lower in fat, sugar and sodium, and provide more of the nutrients needed by children, according to our senator’s release. The standards will take effect at least one full school year after all public comment is considered.

Unaffected by the plan is what children bring to school, from home. They will still have the freedom to dine on liverwurst, nacho chips and soda, if they so choose.

School vending machines will end up offering only bottled water and juices.

Boards will have to weigh the presence of machines emblazoned with the logos of the soft drink companies that provide them, despite the presence of more healthy selections’ chilling inside. Also, take a look at beverage logos that may be part of school scoreboards. If super-sweet products are going down the drain, so must their trademarks and slogans.

Childhood obesity and the need to encourage healthy eating habits can be addressed in our schools, but the effort begins at home. I’ll stick to the yellow cake with chocolate frosting – but only once a year.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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