Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 18, 2012

Healthy snack rules enforced in schools

By Neil Fater Staff Writer
The Andover Townsman

---- — Don’t expect to see any candy handed out in the Andover classrooms this Halloween season.

Superintendent Marinel McGrath sent a letter home to parents Tuesday that makes it clear Andover supports the new state nutrition standards that outlaw home-baked goods from being distributed, and establishes a list of nutrition guidelines for group snacks.

The new state rules mean the end of children celebrating their birthdays by bringing in cupcakes for all their classmates. But the rules do not mean mom or dad can’t pack a cupcake in their children’s lunch bags.

“We’re not monitoring their own packed lunch. They can’t bring in a cupcake for [others],” said Rita Casper, nursing director. “We can’t tell a parent how they can feed their child.”

The new standards do not apply to school breakfast and lunch programs, which remain regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. The standards apply to food that will be served anywhere else in the school building or grounds during school hours, or during the 30 minutes before and after the school day.

Under the new regulations, all food offered in classrooms or by clubs must come prepackaged from a commercial kitchen; have less than 35 percent fat; contain fewer than 200 calories and 200 mg. of sodium per serving; have no transfats, artifical sweeteners or flavors, and contain fewer than 14 grams of sugar.

The regulations effectively will end the practice of serving ethnic food as part of a social studies course, for instance, since the food would need to come prepackaged and meet all these nutritional requirements.

“It’s not going to be easy [to do that],” acknowledged Casper. “My recommendation would really be to look at non-food alternatives to talk about, learn about a culture. Whether it’s music or art or storytelling, try to depict the culture in a different way.”

School-day fundraisers cannot involve candy bars or other sugary snacks. However, groups looking to sell treats in the nighttime, such as during a school play’s intermission, or at halftime of a sporting event, could still do so.

While the ice cream man cannot wait outside school for the final bell, “the ice cream man can pull up 30 minutes after the school day ends,” said Casper.

Most of the changes are not entirely new to Andover.

Andover schools started moving away from providing soda, candy and similar snacks in the schools a few years ago. The town schools have received a good amount of attention for their efforts at replacing sports drinks with smoothies, using more fresh food and having a garden at the high school. U.S. Sen. John Kerry has called the Andover schools lunch program an example for the nation. Earlier this month, the local television show Chronicle highlighted the Andover food services program.

“Before when we talked about it, it was just us being proactive – that we should have more fresh food, that there should be more scratch cooking. Now it’s mandated. It’s not just a direction that Andover’s going in, it’s a direction the country’s going in,” said Gail Koutroubas, school nutrition director. “The letter (Tuesday) is to make it clear what the direction is, and what is allowed.”

The letter that went home included a list of snacks that would be acceptable, from a 4-ounce 100-percent juice box, to a .8-ounce bag of baked potato chips to prepackaged baby carrots and celery sticks.

Ruth Olney, assistant food service director, said that while some people complained when car seat belts were made mandatory and when smoking on school grounds was prohibited most people accept these regulations today.

“Nobody really liked that either. But these new standards I’m sure are going to be to the benefit of all,” said Olney. “We have to look at what’s for the greater good.”

“Initially the students were, ‘Aw, do I have to take a fruit or vegetable every day?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’” said Koutroubas. “We are going through so many fruits and vegetables now, I have to thing it’s [working]. And it’s not all going in the trash.”

Koutroubas said Andover continues to look for ways to improve its program and encourage kids to eat healthy foods.

Today, Thursday, students at Doherty Middle School will have a taste test to see what are the most popular food offerings at that school, she said. At Andover High, healthy snacks such as smoothies, fruit, sandwiches and soup are offered for sale after school.

“It’s a long day when some kids eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. and they practice a sport until 6 p.m. They get hungry,” said Olney.

The cafeteria sells about $250 of snacks after school each day.

The new state rules took effect in August and apply to all Massachusetts communities. However, Casper said that while some communities might ban group snacks completely, Andover has tried to create guidelines that meet the state rules while continuing to allow celebrations.

Andover’s policy was written by a 15-member group now known as the Wellness Committee that would welcome additional parents or a local businessperson to become involved, said Casper. Anyone interested can email rcasper@aps1.net, or call 978-623-8545.

The Andover policy was approved at the end of June. The committee took time this fall to make sure they had information together to provide answers for any questions parents might have, before sending the letter home to parents, Casper said.

“With Halloween coming up and all these different things, we want to make sure everyone’s following those requirements. We don’t want candy in the classroom,” said Koutroubas. “They’ll get plenty of candy when they go out trick-or-treating.”