Sweets restricted in Chambersburg area schools

October 03, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg parents will soon be offered fruit and vegetable trays as an alternative to sending in cupcakes, candies and other sweets for classroom celebrations.

Elementary schools in the Chambersburg Area School District are participating in the state's new School Nutrition Incentive Program. The initiative aims to cut down on foods that "compete" with healthy school lunches designed to promote long-term nutritional health.

Guidelines for the voluntary program take sodas out of vending machines, ban fundraiser candy sales during the school day and prohibit teachers from using food and candy as a reward.

"If schools want to adopt these stricter standards, they have an increase in their reimbursement," said Michael Race, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.


Schools receive an additional 1 to 2 cents for breakfasts and lunches served to students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, Race said.

He said the state education department (on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) administers the free and reduced-cost meal program to 914 entities, including public school districts, private schools and day-care centers.

Of the 914, 398 agreed to the incentive program's standards and 84 rejected them as of Tuesday morning, Race said. Others have not responded, he said.

Greencastle-Antrim School District is not participating in the program, but it has taken steps to reduce outside foods that compete with school lunches, acting superintendent C. Gregory Hoover wrote in an e-mail.

Tuscarora School District in the Mercersburg area is not participating, food service representatives there said.

Waynesboro Area School District is not participating in the program, although the district has been making efforts to promote healthy choices.

"We've been trying to take baby steps with the whole wellness program," food services supervisor Mike Embly said.

The district adopted modified state standards and has been offering more whole grains and fresh fruits at lunch, he said.

Doing so has become easier, since industry is producing tastier foods that appeal to children and teenagers, Embly said.

Chambersburg had a role in the School Nutrition Incentive Program even before it was enacted by legislation July 20. One set of guidelines applies to the 2007-08 school year, and a second, more-detailed set apply to the 2008-09 school year.

"We were really instrumental in the guidelines and worked with the governor's office to define them," Chambersburg food services director Ann Ziobrowski said.

She shared concerns about a second-year requirement that foods sold a la carte must provide fewer than 250 calories per serving.

"Really, that makes it hard to even have a sandwich," Ziobrowski said.

The 250-calorie rule prompted her to recommend that the program not be used in all schools.

"We chose to implement it in all the elementary schools, but we did not implement it at secondary schools, primarily because we thought it was too limiting for the older students," Ziobrowski said.

One of the ways Chambersburg will provide alternatives to sweets in classrooms during holiday and birthday celebrations is by making fruit and vegetable trays available to order off the district Web site. Parents also can buy treats like "ants on a log" made with raisins and cream cheese on celery.

"We decided to offer that as a service to parents," Ziobrowski said.

The second year of the program involves education for parents concerning healthy foods if students are packing lunches rather than purchasing ones prepared at school.

"The main challenge is - at least in our district - that we're so widespread. It's a policy that is certainly difficult to monitor," Ziobrowski said. "It's hard to control what's coming in from home."

Approximately 35 percent of Chambersburg's student population (or 2,900 students) is enrolled in the free- and reduced-price lunch program, according to Ziobrowski.

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