Schools across the country will be following updated Department of Agriculture rules governing snacks, drinks in vending machines, stores and à la carte lines. The guidelines — which begin for the 2014-2015 school year — limit the amount of calories, fat, and sugar, while encouraging whole grains, reduced fat, fruits and vegetables.
More than 200,000 parents, education leaders and health advocates spoke out in favor of the updated guidelines when they were introduced.
Here is a sampling of school changes that have already rippled across the country:
In Cincinnati, with 34,680 students in the school system, administrators already reduced the number of vending machines, turn them on only after 4:30 p.m. and work with vendors to provide healthier offerings than were sold previously. They ask vendors to help with wellness initiatives and used an extra $5,000 a year for programs and new offerings like salad bars. At the same time, the district encouraged participation in the reimbursable meals program by setting the prices at the same price point as the à la carte items and snacks. An additional 7,000 meals were sold, offsetting lost revenue from vending.
“Some principals were worried about losing the revenue, but then they realized that our margin of revenue had increased. I haven’t heard any complaints since,” said Jessica Shelly, Cincinnati’s food service director.
In Hall County schools in Gainesville, Georgia, only water is sold as a beverage in elementary schools. In addition, healthier snacks are sold in school stores and à la carte lines. The whole district, with 21,730 students, swapped out sports drinks in vending machines in favor of water and overhauled school stores. The district also replaced unhealthy ice cream products with healthier versions in the à la carte lines.
The “450 bottles of water sold out by 10 a.m. The healthier pretzels? Sold out,” says Jacob Weirs, district wellness coordinator. “Students will buy what is there.”
At Southern Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky, administrators work with local groups to help fund the purchase of healthy snacks for its school store. The school offers samples to its 697 students – and it collects their feedback and prioritizes their preferences. All snacks already meet federal nutrition guidelines.
“Change is hard, but it is worth it, and we are moving forward,” said Angela Stark, physical education and health teacher. “Kids will buy whatever is available — we’ve just made sure the available items are healthy choices.”
The Perry County and Bessemer City school districts in Alabama already are providing snack options that meet federal nutrition standards. In Perry County, the vending machines sell only water and 100 percent fruit juice, and they are turned off during lunch. Bessemer City Schools removed its vending machines all together and now limit snack sales to à la carte lines, where staff can better manage inventory and offer healthier items like all-fruit slushies. Perry County’s student population is 1,924; Bessemer City’s is 4,480.
“We need to help our students be healthier,” said Joyce Banks, Perry County’s food service director. “We’re defeating the purpose of offering healthier meals if our snack guidelines aren’t aligned.”
Anderson County’s district four in Pendleton, South Carolina, has a healthy snack cart for middle school students who might be hungry mid-morning. The faculty in the district also no longer serve pizza and cake for staff development days. The district, with 2,878 students, hasn’t lost money by eliminating junk food sales.
“We have been doing it for three years, and we have found that kids will buy whatever we offer,” says Joanne Avery, deputy superintendent.
In Topeka, Kansas, a student-led movement at Seaman High School expanded snack options and held taste tests to help pick the new selections.
When new state-level nutrition guidelines were being adopted, the school banded together with other locals schools to strengthen buying power and push vendors to provide healthier options.
“That helped because we could show buying power,” says Claudia Welch, a physical education and health teacher at Seaman. “When the new state guidelines went into effect, our voices had even more power.”
At Plattsmouth High School in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, with a student population of 517, administrators revamped every venue selling snacks and drinks. The school also started a new fresh fruit cart that boosted overall school food profits.
Principal Jeff Wiles says it is important to set strong rules and stick to them, to be patient and take small steps, and to empower students. The school removed all full-calorie drinks from its beverage machines.
“We sell as many bottles of water now as what we sold of soda five years ago,” he said.
At SUPER School at Frederick Douglass School 19 in Indianapolis, Indiana, there are no vending machines or à la carte sales; instead, students can have extra fruit, vegetables, and healthy drinks during lunch.
There also is a policy against rewarding students with unhealthy foods. Each of the school’s 420 students receives a free healthy breakfast and lunch, and an entree salad is offered as an option for lunch every day. Parents bring healthy snacks like apples or yogurt for birthdays, and the school has a blender for smoothies during special events.
“I asked one vendor for a vending machine with only healthy items in it. They were willing to do half healthy items, but not all. So I said no,” said Audrey Satterbloom, the district’s wellness supervisor.
The High School for Public Service in New York, New York, now has access to a store at lunch and after school with healthier snack options. The 418 students there have embraced the change.
“The store is still going great,” says Eric Ferreira, a parent coordinator. “We bought a freezer so we can stock fruit slushes, fruit bars, and fruit cups. Last semester (in fall 2013) we had a profit of about $2,000.”
The Philadelphia School District, with its 165,694 students, tightened its policy on beverages in 2006 and began pricing water lower than 100 percent fruit and milk options to encourage students to drink more water. The school also promotes reimbursable healthy school meals to offset any loss in revenue from sales of snacks and à la carte.