Texas Department of Agriculture Issues Stronger School Nutrition Policy for 2004-2005

By Melanie R. Margolis

Effective August 1, 2004, in time for the 2004-2005 school year, a new nutrition policy will be in place for Texas schoolchildren. The new policy is available at http://www.agr.state.tx.us/foodnutrition/ntn_policy.htm. Announced by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) on March 3, 2004, the new policy calls for schools to limit the number of grams of fat and sugar schoolchildren may have, and it will  require schools eventually to eliminate deep-fat frying in food preparation. Also, portion sizes for such items as chips, cookies, bakery items, and frozen desserts will be limited. The new policy also limits the availability of “competitive” foods. Competitive foods are foods that are sold in competition with a school’s operation of the breakfast, lunch, or after school snack programs, and include, for example, food items sold in vending machines, school stores, and school fundraisers.  These nutritional standards apply to foods served in districts where at least one school participates in the national school breakfast, lunch, or after-school snack program.

The previous TDA school nutrition policy, dated July 28, 2003, detailed new nutritional standards for the 2003-2004 school year, but it was not nearly as far reachingas the new one. See http://www.agr.state.tx.us/foodnutrition/whatsnew/FMNVPolicy.doc. It restricted the availability of  foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV) in schools, but the only restricted food items were soda water, water ices, chewing gum, and certain candies. See http://www.agr.state.tx.us/foodnutrition/whatsnew/RestrictedFoods.doc.  That policy was quite limited. Among the shortcomings of the previous policy were the following: vending machines did not have to be removed from the premises; students could still bring prohibited FMNV from home for his or her own consumption though schools may limit this with their own policies; carbonated beverages were covered, but not sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages; a school day was defined as running from the start of breakfast until the last bell of the day, permitting FMNV during after school activities; and the nutritional content of school meals was not addressed at all.

Under the new Texas policy, school districts must take the following steps for all grade levels: eliminate deep-fat frying of food; restrict portion sizes on chips, certain snacks and sweets, milk, and fruit drinks; place limits on the amount of fats and sugar per serving; offer fruits and vegetables daily at all points of service; offer 2%, 1%, or skim milk at all points where milk is served. In addition, starting in the 2005-06 school year, school districts should include a request for trans fat information in all product specifications in order to reduce the purchase of products containing trans fats by 2007-08. Finally, by the 2006-07, all fruit and vegetable juices should contain 100% real juices.

Elementary schools will have to eliminate FMNV and other candy at all times. These items may not be sold, nor may they be given away at school by school administrators, teachers, coaches, students, student groups, parents, parent groups, or others. In addition, schools and other vendors may not serve in schools foods having over 28 grams of fat per serving size more than twice a week, and schools are working toward reducing that requirement to 23 grams of fat per serving by 2006-2007.  An elementary school campus may not serve or provide access to competitive foods to students until the end of the last scheduled class. Also, specific limitations have been imposed on that longtime children’s favorite -- French fries. Servings of fries are limited to once a week, must be no more than 3 ounces, and students may purchase only one serving at a time. TDA recommends that schools bake rather than fry foods.

For middle schools, the requirements are somewhat looser. FMNVs and other candy are permitted, but only after the last lunch period ends. Competitive foods are not allowed during meal times, but are permitted at other times. As in elementary schools, servings of fries are not to exceed 3 ounces and students may purchase only one serving at a time, but fries may be served three times a week.

High schools have fewer limitations than middle schools. Neither FMNVs nor competitive foods are permitted during meal times in areas where government-reimbursable meals are served and/or consumed. After March 3, 2004, new vending contracts and contract renewals must prohibit the sale of sugared, carbonated beverages in 12 ounces or larger containers. By 2005-06, no more than 30% of the beverages offered in vending machines should be sugared, carbonated soft drinks. The three times per week limit imposed on the serving of French fries does not apply in high schools, though servings remain limited to 3 ounces each, and students may only purchase one serving at a time.

An overview of these requirements is available at http://www.agr.state.tx.us/media/press_releases/0304/com_030304overview.htm. The new policy covers more than just the worst of the junk foods. It is stronger on these items, and it takes the much needed step of attempting to make school meals themselves more nutritional.