Your Health: Smart snacks, smarter eating habits
When South Routt and Hayden school district students walk the halls next year in search of candy bars and potato chips, they won’t find those items in vending machines or snack bars, and health and wellness coordinator Kristi Brown is making moves now to ensure they aren’t too alarmed by the change.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture handed down its first overhaul of healthy school snacks options in more than three decades last summer. Starting July 1 and taking effect for the 2014-15 school year, snack foods such as candy, chips and other things the USDA considers junk food will be replaced by healthier options under its strict new regulations.
So Brown, anticipating the major change that will occur when school resumes in the fall, decided to let students in South Routt and Hayden decide what vending machines and snack bars will offer.
Last week, Brown spent two days before and after school in South Routt hosting a taste-testing booth, offering up free samples of snacks the USDA approves under the “Smart Snacks in School” standards. This week, she’s in Hayden with the same snack-tasting table, taking surveys of what students enjoy so the change isn’t totally unexpected next year.
“I think it’s just common that kids get told what to do and where to be all day long their entire adolescent lives,” Brown said Monday at her booth at Hayden High School. “Anytime you can let kids make decisions about things that really affect them, it’s a good idea.”
The new regulations heavily target snacks, limiting fat, sugar and sodium content.
The USDA now says that any food sold in schools in the 2014-15 school year and thereafter must be a “whole grain-rich” grain product, or must have the first ingredient be a fruit, vegetable, a dairy product or a protein. Schools also can sell food with at least a quarter cup of fruits or vegetables.
Snacks must be less than 200 calories, less than 230 mg of sodium, less than 35 percent fat from calories and less than 35 percent of its total weight in sugar.
Beverages also will be affected. Schools only can sell plain water, no-calorie flavored water, unflavored low-fat milk, types of fat-free milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. Drinks such as Gatorade, soda or flavored fatty milks no longer will be found on school campuses.
The regulations for beverages differ slightly based on whether snacks are offered at the elementary or high school level.
“Obviously, when kids come in the first day (next year) and see their Kit Kat bars aren’t there, they’re going to have a fit,” Brown said. “I thought that’s not the way to do it, blindsiding them. The best way to do it is to let them be a part of the process.”
Brown’s surveys are simple, asking questions such as “Do you like this item, yes or no?” and “Did you like something more than you thought you would?” Based on the tallies, the vast majority of students are open to the healthier options.
At the booth, Brown had choices such as fruit, low-sugar and low-calorie granola bars, drinkable Greek yogurt, chocolate soy milk and whole-grain chips to dip in hummus.
She also has compiled an end-of-the-school-year flier for parents, outlining the USDA’s regulations and what is expected to be offered for sale to students in the coming years.
But no matter how much warning students are given, some aren’t as open to the change — not yet, at least.
“I use the vending machine, like, once a day,” Hayden sophomore Tommy Wade said. “It will take at least half a year to get used to it. I don’t really like change.”
Brown said Hayden is switching vending machine owners/operators next year. South Routt is purchasing a new machine to go along with the one it already owns.
Judy Baker, MCSD’s food service director, said increasing availability of fruits in schools is one effort already in mind, as well as providing a salad bar at Craig Middle School similar to the one that has been in place at Moffat County High School for years.
A greater number of Smart Snacks and a phasing-out of unhealthier foods and drinks are also in the works.
Teaching students better dietary habits such as reasonable serving sizes is important, Baker said.
“They’ve gotten away with that with things like great big sodas and other items that are super-sized,” Baker said.
Baker said implementation of past guidelines has been mostly positive based on student reactions.
“There hasn’t been a dramatic indifference,” she said. “When we went to whole-wheat buns and tortillas, they weren’t happy about it, but now, I don’t hear any complaints.”