School responds to federal crackdown on unhealthy snacking

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Ellen Kan

In accordance with new USDA nutrition guidelines, Jefferson's vending machines with sugary sweets will be shut down until after dismissal.

By Ellen Kan, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

The new school year may have just begun, but students are already used to adapting to Jefferson’s ever-changing learning environment, one that constantly shifts to accommodate for construction. However, one federal mandate may threaten to alter what many Jefferson students hold close to heart: food.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a new set of requirements regarding nutritional options offered in schools. These rules, known as the Smart Snacks in School standards, will be implemented in schools around the country this year.

The Smart Snacks standards include limits on calorie, sodium, fat and sugar content. In addition, all foods must meet one of the following requirements: be a “whole grain-rich product”; contain a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient; contain at least a quarter cup of fruit and/or vegetables if the option is a combination of different foods; or contain 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber.

The federal government doesn’t want schools to be the conduit for unhealthy eating habits. If families or students themselves want to be the conduit, that’s their choice.”

— Evan Glazer, principal

Principal Evan Glazer supports the push for more awareness regarding nutrition choices, although he believes only time can tell whether Smart Snacks will make a difference. “The federal government doesn’t want schools to be the conduit for unhealthy eating habits,” Glazer said. “If families or students themselves want to be the conduit, that’s their choice. But will this change student eating habits? We’ll have to find out.”

Jefferson is already seeing the execution of these standards. On the Sept. 9 morning announcements, the Student Government Association (SGA) reported that all vending machines with sugary sweets will be shut off until 30 minutes after the school day ends.

A concern unique to Jefferson is how the Smart Snacks standards will impact red day bake sales, an indispensable tradition. Clubs and individuals will have to modify what they sell in accordance to the new guidelines. For example, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, churros, pizza and other popular options will not be allowed unless they meet specific rules regarding their nutritional value.

“I think that while the initiative definitely makes selling baked goods and other snacks more challenging, it’ll be good for TJ in the long run,” junior Olivia Zhang said. “Once clubs get the hang of adhering to the guidelines while still making their treats taste good, people will hopefully start to see the benefits of this initiative.”

Zhang is a member of SGA, and she is on a newly established committee that is dedicated to regulating food and nutrition at Jefferson. The student leaders are determined to work through this complication so that the Jefferson community can develop healthy eating habits while still preserving the custom of holding bake sales.

We’re trying to maintain our school culture and activities as much as possible, so it’s a delicate balance when we have to adopt new rules.”

— Evan Glazer, principal

“Initially, we may see some clubs have to take time to rethink which snacks meet the new guidelines and will also sell well,” senior Julia Dunbar, another member of the committee, said. “I believe any negative effects from this initiative will be short-term and will center on clubs having to adjust their methods of generating an income. The TJ community has been given an opportunity to rethink how we do healthy eating, and I think we will be positively impacted because of that.”

Fortunately, students will have many options for modifying home-baked goods, such as making healthier substitutions for ingredients. As the SGA publicizes these new guidelines, they will also provide tips and share new recipes with the student body. However, clubs that do not follow the Smart Snacks standards will lose the opportunity to hold bake sale fundraisers in school.

“The approach we will take is to provide people with guidelines, and there are expectations that these guidelines will be followed,” Glazer said. “We’re trying to maintain our school culture and activities as much as possible, so it’s a delicate balance when we have to adopt new rules.”

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