When choice is bad

Published in FSD Update

Federal guidelines are a step in the right direction for some, but not everyone chooses to follow them.

Having the option of choice is a good thing, right? Not always.

The USDA has taken great strides recently to ensure that every meal served to the country’s students is healthy. For years child nutrition professionals have been asking the federal agency for national guidelines that would put every district on equal footing and help manufacturers produce consistent products for every customer in every state. That’s what the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has done. The rules aren’t perfect, by any means, but they are a step in the right direction.

My home state of Texas, however, decided that it didn’t like being constricted by federal guidelines, specifically those addressing competitive foods. Shortly after the USDA released its proposed rules regarding à la carte food sales in schools, the state legislature passed a law that would “prohibit the Department of Agriculture from imposing sanctions on a school district based on the sale of food of minimal nutritional value to students at a high school.” (In Texas, child nutrition programs are under the purview of the state’s Department of Agriculture.) 

This particular law addresses the issue of student fundraisers and mandates that no sanctions can be imposed if a food item is “made outside of a school area designated for food service or food consumption or during a period other than a school meal service period for the purpose of raising money for a student organization or activity.” 

The impetus for the law could have been $73,000 in fines that eight Houston ISD schools were charged for violating competitive food guidelines. One school, Westbury High School, was fined because a coach sold fried chicken on campus to raise money for his team. 

The Texas law (HB 1781), which went into effect June 14, is at odds with the USDA’s newly released rules regarding competitive foods, which states that exemptions for foods sold outside school meals program, i.e., fundraisers, will be determined by the state agency. If the state agency does not set a limit for the number of exemptions, none will be granted. 

I’m all about giving people choice, when appropriate. But sometimes choice needs to be restricted for the better good, especially when it protects those who are too young to make the best choices for their health, as in the case with elementary students and the selling of foods of minimal nutritional value. In this instance, there’s no reason for states to enact their own versions of laws that conflict with the USDA’s. That only muddles an already complex situation. 

In most cases, however, I don’t advocate the removal of choice. Take the 10-year-old Meatless Monday movement, for example. In this month’s Analysis (p. 52), Editorial Director Paul King looks at what happens when operators remove customers’ choices in the name of a campaign. In many situations, the end result isn’t favorable.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Hutchinson Middle School in Hutchinson, Minn., invited students to help serve lunch in an effort to encourage their peers to try new, healthy recipes, Hutchinson Leader reports.

The students, who are part of the school’s Students in Action Club, created posters to advertise the new meal and helped serve it to students during lunch.

The school’s kitchen manager, Janet Schmidt, said that around 37 more students than normal got in line to try the meal. The school plans to have students from the club help serve lunch once every month.

Read the full story via Hutchinson...

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to trim costs, the country’s largest senior living company laid off 100 staff members, including regional dining services directors, reports Senior Housing News .

Not all employees who were laid off will technically leave the company, Senior Housing News notes, as some will be reassigned to alternative positions. Brookdale recently posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations and that the company’s CEO called disappointing.

At the end of last year, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company employed 53,000 workers on a full-time basis, and...

Industry News & Opinion

After receiving mixed feedback from parents, Randolph County School District in Asheboro, N.C., is inviting parents to tour the district’s kitchens and cafeterias to see how the food for school meals is made, Fox 8 reports.

School officials say that the tours, part of the district’s first Food Day for Parents, will give parents an inside look at the upkeep of the facilities, as well as enable them to sample some food and see how the district is upholding USDA guidelines.

Officials also hope that the tours will provide them with more guidance on what parents and students are...

Industry News & Opinion

After fielding complaints from parents and students, Sodexo is launching an initiative to improve dining services at Emerson College in Boston, the Berkeley Beacon reports.

The initiative will kick off this month with an event dubbed Fresh Start, marking the start of several moves aimed at improving service—including the hiring of a new executive chef, the addition of a second sous chef, and retraining current staff on food preparation and presentation.

Members of the Emerson community will also be able to share feedback through the introduction of monthly forums, as well...

FSD Resources