Jul 29, 2014
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Loopholes Make Way for Cheeseburgers, Fries

Policy review hits on weaknesses in school offerings.

Loopholes Make Way for Cheeseburgers, Fries

Warren schools have a strict nutritional policy, based on tough federal guidelines to meet the nutritional requirements of children.

And Warren schools have "Food Days" in each school, where students can choose from Burger King cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets...or take them both.

"I heard one school is serving McDonald's biscuit breakfast—and that can't be nutritious," Vice-President Mildred Spiller said during a spirited discussion of the board's nutrition policy at Monday's meeting that highlighted the "loopholes" created by school celebrations and the PTO's fundraising Food Day programs.

The policy sets guidelines for the meals the district serves, but allows the PTO-operated Food Days to determine their own menus and vendors, which often includes some less-than-ideal food sources. Parents order meals for their kids from menus prepared for the Food Day programs.

According to several Food Day program coordinators speaking at the meeting, the menus for the Food Days are prepared months in advance and aim to offer reasonable choices.

But they also noted parents—and students—don't always make the best choices. For example, students are barred from enjoying two cheeseburgers from vendors, but can order a cheeseburger, chicken nuggets and fries.

One school coordinator said some schools' Food Day menus include fast food 24 times per year. She added that a survey of school parents on the choices offered found many admitting to ordering the food—but adding they wished it wasn't offered.

The board also discussed the challenges posed by the steady stream of cupcakes and cookies offered to students for birthday celebrations and class parties.

Some board members said they believed the district should make every effort to have the Food Days and celebrations match the nutritional lessons taught in the schools—but others didn't want to go so far as to have strict mandates, preferring parents be left with the responsibility of the students' meal choices.

But dietician Kathleen Siegel noted most parents aren't well informed either about the implications of the choices made in school—she noted students having typical birthday celebration treats and class celebations can gain about 2½ pounds just from the treats served then.

"We have to participate more as professionals, as parents, in guiding these choices," she said.   

Board members also admitted to not always knowing what all is served in the schools or what parents would prefer.

To help members get more information, the board discussed empanelling a committee of school nurses, PTO coordinators and parents to examine the policies, but also to gather some information on foods served in the schools and items brought for class events examined by nurses.

This article was edited to correct the statement made by Kathleen Siegel to include class birthday parties and class celebrations.

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