Gone will be non-diet soft drinks, cookies, fried potato chips and any other snack foods not meeting the new requirements. Also on the way out are products such as Chick-fil-A biscuits and doughnuts used as fundraisers, if they are sold during school hours.
The decision comes from Washington and can’t be changed by local leaders, but that doesn’t mean Cobb school board members can’t express their opinion.
“The government can’t stop obesity,” said Randy Scamihorn, vice chair of the Cobb Board of Education. “The kids are going to eat what they’re going to eat, and they’re not going to eat what they’re not going to eat. I’m against government intervention where it’s not needed, and I’m against kids made to go hungry by the government. If they’re hungry, they won’t learn to their optimum level.”
Rules come from USDA
The regulations are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks in School” standards.
Under the new rules, foods must be “whole grain rich,” meaning they contain 50 percent whole grains or have whole grains as the first ingredient, or have as the first ingredient a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein-rich food. Snacks must be 200 calories or less, and entrees must be 350 calories or less. Snacks must have less than 230 milligrams of sodium, and the fat content in any food must be no more than 35 percent of its total calories, according to SmartSnacksinSchool.com.
Diet soft drinks and low-fat milk will still be allowed in limited quantities. Water can be served in unlimited amounts and children can still bring snacks to school from home if they choose.
The new regulations are meant to bring more nutrition to food served in schools, said Cynthia Downs, Cobb’s executive director of food and nutrition.
“School meals meet evidence-based nutrition standards, ensuring that meals are healthy, well-balanced and provide students the nutrition they need to succeed at school,” said Downs. “We continue to enhance our menu offerings to include healthful, kid-approved options. Our menus include quality brand-name products and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve implemented monthly ‘try-days,’ which are an opportunity for students to try new items. Foods that pass the test are added to the menu.”
The measures are also meant to curb childhood obesity, which has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“By implementing consistent nutrition standards throughout the school, the hope is to enhance the learning environment and contribute to the overall health and well-being of our students,” said Downs.
The rules stem from the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which calls on the USDA to serve healthier food in schools. The first part of the act went into effect in 2012, requiring healthier school lunches. Scamihorn said he isn’t a fan of the change, either, but concedes the average person is powerless to stop it.
“We are fast becoming more socialistic than the former Soviet Union ever thought about being,” said Scamihorn. “The government doesn’t need to be in the business of telling parents and young adults what they should or shouldn’t eat. That’s so basic to the American way I don’t see how they’re getting away with it. They know we can’t do anything.”
Changes to school lunches made in 2012 are similar to the ones now being enforced on snack foods — less fat and sodium, more whole grains.
First lady’s impact on rules
Bob Barr of Smyrna and Barry Loudermilk of Bartow County are in a Republican runoff for Georgia’s 11th Congressional District, which includes a large swath of Cobb County. Both agree the regulations are a terrible idea.
Barr puts the blame on first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.
“Every time you think the government has done the most stupid thing possible, darned if they don’t do something even stupider,” Barr said. “Now, we have the ‘first nanny’ — the unelected, unaccountable ‘first nanny’ — going on her crusade.”
Barr, a former U.S. Congressman, and Loudermilk, a former state senator, are looking to replace Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), who left his seat to launch an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid.
Loudermilk echoed Barr’s comments.
“When did Michelle Obama take control of our choices here in Georgia?” Loudermilk said. “It’s not the place of the federal government to tell the states how to run their schools. It’s also not their place to tell children what to eat. That’s a parent’s decision. This is the epitome of what’s wrong in Washington, D.C.”
But state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) believes some of the standards have merit.
“Growing up, we didn’t have vending machines in schools,” he said. “I hate that we have to subsidize our education on the backs of the kids through vending machines. I don’t know if a kid should be having a sugary drink and candy and chips for lunch. They need to have something a little healthier.”
Wilkerson said he’s unsure about regulations affecting fundraisers.
Some are on the fence about the issue, such as Fara McCrady, a stay-at-home mom with two children at Lassiter High School.
“I don’t think it’s OK to tell us what we have to do, especially when it’s unreasonable compared to the way most children eat,” she said. “I don’t think they should ban snacks, but I do think kids are being taken advantage of. They know kids have cash, and these vending machines are filling them with things they shouldn’t have anyway.”
Schools not complying with the regulations could see a financial penalty up to $20,000, according to SmartSnacksinSchool.com. Unless the law is changed, schools do not have the choice of opting out or delaying the implementation of the standards.