by JEEVAN NAGPAL
In an effort to evade childhood obesity and encourage students to make better choices, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act last December. The act said that schools should substitute junk food in vending machines and school lunches with more wholesome options.
Food Service Director of Monroe Township Schools, Nancy Mitrocsak says, “Childhood obesity is one of the most serious health epidemics facing America today. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one third of children and teens in the US are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is leading to a range of health problems that previously were not generally seen until adulthood, including high blood pressure, type II diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. We believe that we have a responsibility to improve the health and well-being of our students, and that any effort to enhance student health is a good idea.”
Schools across the nation quickly replaced the unhealthy choices in the beginning of September, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, proposed new regulations for school lunches this past January. The new regulations will incorporate more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat and fat-free milk, and a decrease in sodium in lunch.
To implement the recent regulations, many schools restocked their vending machines with fresh fruit and vegetables or whole-grain, reduced-fat snacks. Fresh mango chunks, fresh pineapple chunks, raw carrots, and raw celery are some of the alternatives vending machines offer. Other machines are selling organic tea, Pop chips, and Cliff bars.
Twenty-seven states adopted policies that moderate the nutritional content in school vending machines, and, under a 2010 law, national nutrition standards for school vending machines must be set by the end of next year by the federal Agriculture Department.
According to the New York Times, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Margo Wootan says, “Dietary change happens over time. I worked 10 years to get schools to go from candy bars to granola bars and baked chips. But when you look at the whole mix, it really does help to reduce calories, saturated fats and sugar.”
In Monroe, many changes also occurred for school lunches.
Monroe Township schools participate in the National School Lunch Program, which accommodates direction and oversight for school nutritional programs. According to Ms. Mitrocsak, the high school has incorporated new technology, which permits the school to cook food in healthier ways.
“The most notable change is that the new MTHS does not have deep fryers. The fryers have been replaced with a high powered combi-oven, eliminating the need for additional fat in the cooking process,” says Ms. Mitrocsak.
The school is also trying to offer more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in school lunches. At the beginning of September 2011, the school cafeteria began to serve milk with a fat content of one percent or less.
Although Monroe Township schools have not swtiched to fresh vegetables and fruits in the school vending machines, they have added new nutritional snack items, such as PopChips and Terra Blue Chips. All the snacks in the vending machines are less than eight grams of total fat and two grams of saturated fat.
Monroe Township schools are slowly introducing more wholesome options in the cafeteria, and more changes willl occur as the years go on.