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

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Menu Development
chicken tetrazzini bowl

The No Whey station in the main dining hall at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., offers students meals that are free of the eight most common allergens. When Brittany Parham, the dietitian who oversees the station, polled food-sensitive students on which favorites they missed most, “comfort foods” was the overwhelming response. Parham, who herself has food allergies, worked with chefs on the 20,000-student campus to focus on allergen-free versions of pasta bakes, biscuits, banana bread and other down-home dishes. Recently, the chefs reworked the school’s traditional chicken...

Ideas and Innovation
university chicago medical center renovation workers

As The University of Chicago Medical Center prepared for the revamp of one of its kitchens to feed an additional 202 patients, it wasn’t just foodservice executives coming to the table to make decisions. The process, which began in fall 2014, involved hourly employees from the ground up, says Daryl Wilkerson, vice president of support services. “They actually helped build this [kitchen], which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he says. “Normally what you’ll get in a lot of projects is senior people sitting around in shirts and ties making decisions.”

The hospital follows the...

Ideas and Innovation
idea bulb innovation concept

There’s no feeling quite like the “spark of inspiration” that Dawn Aubrey , associate director of housing for dining services at the University of Illinois, cites in this month’s Steal This Idea-themed cover story. That rush of blood and endorphins to the brain when everything comes together is like nothing else, and often finds me falling over furniture because I’m so excited to start putting plans into action. Unfortunately, I also bruise easily.

Throughout this issue, we’ve highlighted stealable ideas in all realms of noncommercial foodservice, from protein-focused sides to...

FSD Resources