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Loopholes Make Way for Cheeseburgers, Fries

Policy review hits on weaknesses in school offerings.

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.

Jen B July 17, 2012 at 01:47 PM
At the elementary school levels, "food days" choices are made by parents via a website and not by the children. I'd like to believe that as parents, we are fully aware of healthy eating choices and are capable of making correct choices for our children. I do not believe that the school must step in to decide what children can or can not eat. A note about the "food days' choices: yes it is true that a parent can choose to buy 3 cheese burgers for a child, but along with every meal offered, the PTO has made sure to include healthy choices. In other words, a parent can also choose to purchase 3 salads along with or without the cheeseburgers. I am quite pleased with the variety of choices available for purchase. Some favorites of ours include: fruit cup and chicken noodle soup (Bagel days), chicken and broccoli (chinese day) chicken quesadillas (Baha Fresh) and pancakes. (Yes, I allow my kids to eat them!) Also, "food days" are a fabulous option for parents to provide meals for their children, but they are optional. Any parent who feels the choices are unhealthy, can simply refrain from purchasing the offending foods. And a final note about the "celebration" treats - from my experience, the schools are very clear about allowing the correct foods, (sugar content, allergy-free and portion control) into the classrooms. As a parent, I am comfortable with this policy and do not feel that more regulation is necessary.
John Patten (Editor) July 17, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Thanks, Jen. The board did also discuss the requirements for the celebration snacks, and each school has guidelines which are sent to parents. An interesting note was the amount of time school nurses spend evaluating the snacks before allowing them to be served—however, they are not reviewing the nutritional content, only allergens.
Alyson July 17, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The PTO Food Days are doing a better job of offering "a la carte" options so if you don't want chips with your childs sandwhich, the sandwhich option does not automatically come with chips. You can choose a side salad, baby carrots OR potato chips for your child. PTO run or not their is a degree of responsibility to provide healthy options. As far as fast food goes, the PTO Food days are planned out months in advance and therefore do not require by definition "fast food" since parents are not in a pinch at the last minute and need to feed their children something! Moderation is important. Food days are a convenience that I would rather be with than without, therefore I will take the best the Food day volunteers can offer. In regard to the celebrations, I do not find the celebrations in and of themselves to be an issue. I find that I as a parent have no idea and am not informed of the celebrations other than those defined by the teacher for holidays/season class parties. It is all of the other celebrations, all of the children's classroom birthday parties, the reward of ice cream offered for good behavior (stop light program), the random parents that send treats because it is superbowl weekend and the like that offend me. On any given day I have no idea if my child had sweets or ice cream at school and should not be offered the same at home. I cannot regulate or monitor it in conjunction with home life - that is my problem with it.
Lv in Life July 19, 2012 at 02:48 AM
I'm a parent of four children. All who have or are still in the Warren school system. Food Days are a life savor for me. I make the choices for my children when it comes to food day. They do let me know what they like or dislike so I don't order something that they didn't enjoy. It is my choice as a parent to order what I want for my children. We are educated individuals, the school does not need to step in and make changes. Maybe the parents who are so concerned need to be the ones to tell their children NO, or this is what I chose for you.
Jen B July 19, 2012 at 11:46 AM
I agree with you wholeheartedly, Liv!
Lesley July 22, 2012 at 12:35 PM
As the food day administrator of the food days at the WMS, I believe that ultimately the decision-making choices on what our children eat, comes from the parents. The Food Days committee at WMS makes a concerted effort to offer foods that are 1) going to be eaten by the children; 2) can be eaten in a short period of time; 3) preferably come from our local vendors; and 4) come packaged in a way that is easily distributed to the students. With approximately 800 students in the school, this is not an easy task! We spend "considerable" time planning our menus, making sure vegetarian and "healthy" choices are offered whenever possible. Maybe some of those parents complaining should take the time to serve on our Food Days and see how the children appreciate the meals, or better yet, take a peek at some of the lunchboxes coming in from home full of candy and unhealthy food....
Larry Pearce August 01, 2012 at 06:00 PM
lets stick to teaching at the school....we don't need the food police......educate....not police

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