As regular TLT readers know, I recently resigned from the Houston ISD (HISD) Nutrition Services Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), in part because I was frustrated by the district’s backsliding on promises to reduce the high sugar content in its breakfasts.
But back when I was still advocating on the PAC, it actually wasn’t so easy to quantify the sugar in HISD meals. Although our district uses Nutrislice, an excellent school food menu app, the nutritional information provided contains one notable omission:
As you can see above, this nutrition disclosure lists all the major nutrients in a given food – except sugar. So to determine the number of sugar grams in, say, those now-infamous Craisins served by HISD, I first had to determine the K-12 serving size for the product, then track down the sugar content from the manufacturer’s website, and then do some math.
But even as I was jumping through those hoops – expending more time and effort than the average HISD parent likely would to find the information – it never occurred to me that HISD might be the very entity keeping me in the dark. Rather, I assumed the Nutrislice app simply doesn’t disclose sugar, perhaps because currently there’s no USDA regulation addressing sugar levels in school meals.
But at a recent HISD School Health Advisory Council meeting, someone happened to bring up the Nutrislice app and how much she enjoyed using it. I was reminded of the sugar issue, so I asked one of the Nutrition Services employees in attendance if she knew why Nutrislice’s nutrition information didn’t list sugar grams. At first she said she didn’t know. But then she said HISD doesn’t want “to confuse parents” by listing sugar grams, as parents “wouldn’t be able to distinguish between added sugars and naturally-occurring sugars” in the total figure. And that’s when it dawned on me that maybe the failure to disclose sugar has had nothing to do with Nutrislice at all.
I went home that evening and started Googling. Sure enough, many districts using Nutrislice apparently have no problem entrusting parents with the supposedly “confusing” information regarding sugar in their children’s school meals. Here are just a few examples from districts all over the country:
Indeed, according to Nutrislice’s website, the company’s stated goal is to “provide more transparency and information about where foods come from and how they’re prepared,” and, to further that goal, Nutrislice says it allows schools to post “complete nutrition data” (emphasis mine).
So, somewhere along the line, someone in HISD Nutrition Services made an affirmative decision that HISD parents should not be able to see at a glance how much sugar is in their children’s school meals, even though Nutrislice makes this disclosure very easy to provide.
As I noted in a follow-up to my resignation post, HISD is certainly not alone in serving breakfasts that are too high in sugar. It has also taken some steps to improve its breakfast offerings, and those steps should be applauded. But if HISD Nutrition Services wants to live up to its own inspiring motto . . .
. . . shouldn’t it provide parents with all relevant information about the food it serves to their children, including sugar content?
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