Seaholm sees the effects of new national nutrition standards

By Kelly Martinek and McKenna Ross

Since the Obama family moved into the White House, the First Lady has focused on creating a healthier population, starting with children.

Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010, but schools, and students, are just now seeing its influence.

The brand new set of school lunch nutrition standards took effect this September and Seaholm has already seen it’s effects.

The initiative places restrictions on sugar and sodium content, as well as calorie count, cafeteria manager Cindy Pardington said. Everything must contain little to no sugar or sodium and all bread and wheat products must be whole grain. In addition, there are more fruits and vegetables available and there are no limits placed on sides, unlike previous years.

“Everything’s a lot healthier,” Pardington said.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act provides new regulations in public schools to create a healthy, well-balanced meal. Photo / USDA Graphic / McKenna Ross
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act provides new regulations in public schools to create a healthy, well-balanced meal. Photo / USDA Graphic / McKenna Ross

Assistant principal Deb Boyer emphasized that the nutrition standards are a federal mandate, but the responsibility of enforcing them is shared by the Chartwells, the vendor that contracts with Birmingham Public Schools, and the school.

The guidelines regulate the food the school can provide on school days from 7 am until 3:20 pm. Regulations cannot be administered outside of those times, such as at evening sporting events. The in-school regulations apply to the cafeteria, the Maple Tree, and student-operated bake sales.

The Maple Tree has had to change a large part of their inventory to adjust to the new regulations, and business teacher Michael Munaco said the store has seen an impact on sales as a result.

“Compared to last year, this year we have all new stuff,” Munaco said.  “Sales are decreasing, not much though.”

Last year, the store sold a variety of candies and other sugary, high-calorie snacks, but Munaco believes his students are doing a good job of finding healthy alternatives. The Maple Tree staff has polled the student body to find out which snacks students prefer. Some successes include Skinny Pop and Welch’s Fruit Snacks.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services website, these new standards “will help us raise a healthier generation of children.”

“The new standards align school meals with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools,” the USDA says of what they call the first major changes to school meals in 15 years. “These responsible reforms do what’s right for children’s health in a way that’s achievable in schools across the Nation.”

Boyer agreed that, when it comes to nutrition, schools must have the mindset that education goes beyond the classroom.

“We have to, as much as we can, assist people in making good choices and sometimes in educating them in what those good choices look like,” Boyer said.

Pardington believes the new regulations are helpful to students’ health.

“I think it is very to beneficial students,” she said. “It needed to start back when you guys were younger though. I think this is a change for you but, the kids that are coming up from kindergarten, it’ll be just secondary to them. They won’t know any other way. It’s a healthy thing for them.”

Munaco, on the other hand, said he does not agree with the guidelines. He believes students should have a freedom of choice.

“I think that [the students] should have the right to pick what they eat,” he said. “I don’t think Obama, or anyone for that matter, should regulate what students are buying.”

Junior Maclane Paddock agreed. She feels the new regulations are ineffective.

“Food regulations are absurd because people are still going to eat whatever they want regardless of anything that’s prohibited in school,” Paddock said. “It bothers me so much.”

Munaco noted that these regulations also affect the curriculum of the school store class.

“It’s upsetting because as a curriculum, people take this class to sell and to get that experience,” he said. “I feel with what Michelle Obama has put in place it has kind of taken away from the curriculum.  I don’t know if she even thought about that.”

Regardless of differing opinions, Boyer believes that teaching students a healthy lifestyle is part of the responsibility of schools.

“The role of schools is education,” Boyer said. “The education is socialization, as well as, in this case, nutrition education.”

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