Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Federal Nutrition Standards for Schools

Now that we are two weeks into the school year, you may have heard your kids discussing some of the changes that have taken place in our school lunch program.  Although some of those changes have been by design as a part of our school district's commitment to offering healthy lunch choices, other changes have been as a result of new Federal guidelines.

On June 28, 2013, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an Interim Final Rule entitled "Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010." The competitive foods portion of the rule took effect on July 1, 2014, the start of school year 2014-2015, as required by Section 208 (Sec. 208) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA).

In the past, the USDA regulations only affected the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.  However, now, the new rules apply to any food and beverage products sold during the school day.   This includes items sold on our ala-carte lines at the middle school and high school.  It also includes any items sold from vending machines during the school day and even fundraisers.

To be allowable under the new Federal guidelines, a food item must
  1. Be a whole grain rich product (50% or more whole grains); OR
  2. Have as the first ingredient a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein food (meat, beans, poultry, etc.) OR
  3. Be a "combination food" with at least 1/4 cup fruit and/or vegetable (fruit and togurt, hummus and vegetables) OR
  4. Contain 10% of the Daily Value of one nutrient of public health concern (only through June 30, 2016) Calcium, potassium, vitamin D, dietary fiber
Meet all of the specific nutrient standards below:
  • Total Fat < or = 35% of total calories from fat per item
  • Saturated Fat < or =10% of total calories per item
  • Trans Fat < or = Zero grams of trans fat per portion
  • Sodium--Entree < or =480 mg per item
  • Sodium--Snack & Side items < or =230 mg per item
  • Calories--Entree < or =350 calories per item
  • Calories--Snack & Side items < or =200 calories per item
  • Total Sugar < or = 35% of weight from total sugars per item
As a result of these new Federal guidelines, your kids may have noticed that there are no longer cookies being served in the lunch line.  Also, regular chips have been replaced with baked chips.  They are also seeing more fruit and vegetable options on the lunch menus.  Throughout the year, they will see more changes as our cafeteria staff continues their commitment to both following the Federal guidelines, and offering healthy food choices for our students.  In the Board of Education's new Strategic Plan, they have identified "Healthier Food Choices" as one of their focuses for this school year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Food Allergies and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The number of students with food allergies is increasing across the United States.  According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.  As defined by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, school districts have always had the responsibility of ensuring that students with a disability have the right to receive a "free and appropriate public education."  In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended to state that a food allergy is considered a disability when it is substantially limiting without medication or other safety measures.  The U.S. Department of Education acknowledges that for many children with peanut allergies, the allergy is likely to substantially limit the major life activities of breathing and respiratory function.  Therefore, under federal law, such children would be considered to have a disability.

The extent of the required accommodations for students with food allergies is determined by the needs of the particular student.  Where one child with a mild allergy may only need to avoid ingesting a food item, another child may have a severe and life-threatening reaction to simply being exposed to the food residue second-hand.  Either way, the school district has a legal responsibility to make sure that every student, regardless of their disability, has a right to a free and appropriate public education without needlessly risking his/her health and safety to obtain it.  In cases of severe food allergies, this could mean prohibiting the allergic food from the entire school is the only safe option.

In the past, District #1 has experienced many students with food allergies, and our goal has always been to provide these students with their legal right to a free and appropriate public education.  As the frequency and severity of food allergies in children continues to grow, we will continue to abide by the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and work with the parents of impacted students to provide a free and appropriate public education.  In some cases, this could mean ensuring that an impacted student not ingest a certain food.  However, in more severe cases, this could mean that prohibiting a certain food from the entire school is the only option that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The safety of all of our District #1 students is of utmost importance.  The school district appreciates your understanding and cooperation as we work to ensure that all of our students, regardless of their disability, receive their legal right to a free and appropriate public education.