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Every day, Sam Skokan, 16, buys a Kit Kat bar in the school cafe at Westside High School.
» School meals must have more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting meat, sodium and calories.
» New proposed rules would ban candy bars, cake and other sugary treats from school stores and vending machines as well as on the a la carte line.
» Concession stands for after-school sports and other events would not be affected.
» Also exempt: In-school fundraisers, so long as sales are infrequent, and treats brought for birthday or holiday parties.
Sometimes he eats the crispy chocolate-coated wafers with his lunch — usually a panini or a wrap — other times for a snack.
The tall, slim junior jokes that he tries to make it crunch like in the TV commercial.
The federal government would put the bite on his sweet routine under new rules proposed for fatty, sugary foods sold inside schools.
The government already cracked down on unhealthy school lunches, requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and smaller portions. Now the government is setting its sights on the rest of the food sold on campus.
Candy bars, cake and other sugary treats would be banned from school stores and vending machines, unless the recipes could be reformulated to comply with nutrition standards, under rules proposed this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The rules would further implement the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Congress passed in 2010 amid concerns over childhood obesity.
Concession stands at sporting events and school plays could still sell hot dogs, gooey nachos and sugary soda pop after school hours. In-school fundraisers, for example, that sell chocolate chip cookies to raise money for prom, would be allowed, as long as sales were infrequent or the cookies met nutritional standards. Kids could still bring their own treats from home in a bagged lunch. Cakes and other treats brought to school for birthday or holiday parties would be exempt.
But cafeteria a la carte items, which kids buy in addition to their school lunch, and the items sold in on-campus stores and vending machines would have to meet nutritional requirements or get the boot.
In general, products sold in schools would have to be fruit, vegetables, dairy products, protein foods and “whole-grain rich” products.
Nearly all foods would have to meet calorie and nutrient standards. For instance total fat would have to be 35 percent of calories or less, and snack items would have to contain 200 mg or less of sodium.
The goal, the government says, is to create an “all venue, daylong healthy school food environment.”
Nutrition directors from several area school districts said they've been thumbing through the 160 pages of rules to gauge the impact on their offerings.
“It's definitely going to change the face of our program,” said Diane Zipay, the Westside district's nutrition services director.
“We have always operated from the philosophy, 'We educate, we don't eliminate,' but we won't have that luxury anymore,” Zipay said.
Shelves in Westside High School's Cafe Express store reflect that philosophy, she said. There's an array of chocolate bars and candies one might find at a typical supermarket checkout line. Coolers contain fresh berries, low-calorie drinks, Gatorade, parfaits and ice cream sandwiches. There's granola and Nutri-Grain bars, baked potato chips, Doritos, Pop Tarts, bagels, cheese sticks, as well as hot food like sandwiches and paninis, Pizza Hut pizza and tater tots.
“We'll have to review every single item we sell to see if it qualifies,” Zipay said. “You know, it's a shame.”
She said the proposal doesn't reflect the real world.
“Are we fooling ourselves to believe that kids aren't still going to go to the C-stores outside and buy candy? They're not going to eat candy anymore?”
Skokan said that if Kit Kats were banned, he might buy a peanut butter cookie instead.
A ban wouldn't stop kids from eating candy, he said.
“They wouldn't get it here, but they would get it someplace else,” he said.
Irena Drincic, 17, ducked into Westside's store one day last week and bought a meat and cheese panini for lunch.
She didn't always choose so wisely.
As a freshman, the sweet offerings in the on-campus convenience store left her wide-eyed. She quickly learned, however, you can't sustain yourself on cherry sours and lemon drops.
She piled on the “freshman 15” — the customary 15 pounds new students gain with improved access to meals and treats at the high school. By sophomore year, Drincic started making better choices and shed the pounds. Now the senior buys candy only when she wants “a sweet fix.”
Drincic said schools should educate kids on making healthy choices instead of banning treats. If candy were gone, “I would honestly miss it,” she said.
Tammy Yarmon, Omaha Public Schools director of nutrition services, said the district's high schools have stores that sell snack items that would be subject to the rules.
“Candy's gone,” she said. “The guidelines are going to be strict about what can be offered in those vending machines and what's available in the school stores.”
Yarmon said she'll be reviewing whether the district's a la carte items make the grade. The district offers limited a la carte items and has been cutting back on sugary drinks, switching to baked chips and 100 percent juice, she said.
“We've had some flavored waters out there,” she said. “We need to take a look at that ... because you can't have flavored waters at the middle schools.”
District officials will also have to figure out how to serve ketchup, dressing, butter or cream cheese, which the proposed rules call “accompaniments.”
Accompaniments would have to be preportioned and offered only when food is sold. In addition, accompaniments must meet the nutrition standards and be counted against the overall nutrition of the meal.
Some schools let kids pump as much ketchup as they want from a bulk container, which is cheaper than providing individual-serving packets.
The public has 60 days to comment on the new rules, which were published in the Federal Register on Friday. They would go into effect, at the earliest, a full school year after the public comment is considered.
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Granola, yes; ice cream, no
The U.S. Agriculture Department is proposing new nutritional rules that would apply to most all foods sold in schools.
They would apply to a la carte lines in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars and any other food sold regularly on campus. They wouldn't apply to fundraisers, after-school concession stands, class parties or foods brought from home. ,p> Most every food sold in school would be subject to fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits. Snack foods would have to be under 200 calories and have some nutritional value. Drinks would be limited to 12-ounce portions in high schools and middle schools and 8-ounce portions in elementary schools.
Some examples of what could be in and out under the rules, provided the items meet or don't meet all of the requirements:
» Baked potato chips
» Granola bars
» Cereal bars
» Trail mix
» Dried fruits
» Fruit cups
» Whole grain-rich muffins
» 100 percent juice drinks
» Diet pop (high schools)
» Flavored water (high schools)
» Lower-calorie sports drinks (high schools)
» Unsweetened or diet iced teas (high schools)
» 100 percent frozen juice on a stick
» Baked lower-fat french fries
» Healthier pizzas with whole grain crust
» Lean hamburgers with whole wheat buns
» Snack cakes
» Most cookies
» High-calorie pop
» High-calorie sports drinks
» Juice drinks that are not 100 percent juice
» Most ice cream and ice cream treats
» Greasy pizza and other fried, high-fat foods in the lunchroom
— The Associated Press