As Iowa schools wind down the academic year students may have to say goodbye to some of their favorite snacks in the lunch room as beginning in the fall schools must follow new healthy food guidelines. The cafeteria at Urbandale High School features multiple hot lunch lines as well and a vast selection of a la cart items, everything from chips and cookies to cottage cheese and yogurt. The school’s director of food services Cathy Conklin many of the items will disappear under the “Healthy Kids Act.”.
“Gardettos will go, this one Chex Mix has been reformulated and will be able to stay -the cheddar is not because of the sodium with the cheese obviously so it will have to go, I haven’t analyzed our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches yet to know about those. I have done the analysis on the Sunny D it will not stay for next year I have not done the Juicy Juice but with it being a 100 percent juice and a fruit item it should be able to stay,” Conklin explained.
The Healthy Kids act approved by the Legislature in 2008 prohibits the sale of high fat and calorie items during the school day. It also restricts sugar and salt content. Students at Urbandale call the new rules an outrage and a joke. Seventeen-year-old junior, Billy Schultz, is having nachos, sun chips, and an ice cream cookie sandwich for lunch. He says next year he’ll just eat out.
“Yeah I’m going to be going to fast food B-Bops you know getting my food somewhere else something that’s probably not as healthy as it should be,” Shultz says, “You know they’re trying to make schools more healthy but they’re just causing more people to leave school and eat what they really want to eat.”
Conklin says for that reason she’s convinced she’ll lose money next year. But she says she’s most frustrated by that fact that she has to remove some items she considers healthy like chef salads that have too much sodium to meet the new requirements and even some vegetables. “That carrot and that vegetable tray will have to go because the carrots are too high in sugar,” Conklin says. But the Healthy Kids Act Co-project director says Conklin’s concerns about carrots stem from a glitch in the state’s nutrition calculator, which initially failed to account for vegetables.
The Iowa Department of Education’s Jennifer Neal says the problem has been solved and carrots are encouraged on the a la cart line. Neal says despite the confusion she believes most schools are prepared to make the switch to healthier foods. “I know it’s frustrating for some of the school staff right now as their trying to figure out what products meet, but as the legislation becomes effective and as schools work with their vendors more and each other more I think they’ll start to find more products that meet the healthy kids act,” Neal says.
The Ballard Community School district has been meeting the nutrition requirements for at least a year now. Their cafeteria doesn’t face competition from fast food nor does the district offer open campus. Superintendent John Speer says they contract with a food service company that markets itself as a healthy alternative.
“At the elementary for example everyday there are fresh fruits and vegetables that are available for students to choose and you really definitely would not have seen that ten years ago and still don’t see that quite frankly in a lot of schools today,” Speer says. Speer says the Healthy Kids Act also spurred the district to implement additional physical education time for students.
A requirement that began last fall mandates schools to provide 30 minutes a day of physical activity for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade – while middle and high school students need 120 minutes a week. Schools are allowed to count recess, band, and choir, but Ballard does not.