Smart Snacks presents challenges for schools, vendors

From portion size to sodium and calories, district are struggling with new competitive food regs.

KOKOMO, Ind. — Northwestern students used to look forward to lunch every Thursday, when restaurant-style fried chicken and French fries would be served.

But this year, “chicken days” consist of three baked chicken tenders covered in whole-grain breading. The fries are baked too, and that’s not the only healthy change that’s hit school menus.

“They took away the fried chicken. They took away all the good food and gave us healthy food,” said Northwestern High School ninth grader Ariel Bollnow, joking that she’d like to “have a long talk” with Michelle Obama about her concerns with the new school food.

The First Lady advocated for the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which fully went into effect for the 2013-14 school year. Schools have gradually worked to implement new school lunch menus in recent years, complying with restrictions on how many calories can be served in a meal, the levels of sodium, sugar and fat in the food, and how many servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy must be available to students.

This year, all snacks sold in cafeterias’ a la carte lines, school vending machines and any other place during school hours also must meet the federal healthy food guidelines.
Northwestern’s food services director Renee’ Hullinger said the “smart snack” phase of the federal regulations has been the most challenging to follow.

“With the new regulations on all foods sold in schools, the nutrition stipulations are so strict that our hands are tied in what we can sell,” she said, noting that new kitchen equipment was needed to replace deep fryers that can no longer be used. “The government made all these changes, but they didn’t give us money to do the job.”

Part of the difficulty comes from a lack of available products that meet the nutrition

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