District “Celebrates” Child Nutrition Roll-Back With Free Biscuits and Gravy

Biscuits and GravySo, remember last year’s “CRomnibus” spending bill?  It ended, at least for fiscal year 2015, the ongoing battle between the School Nutrition Association, which wants to roll back key school food nutritional standards, and the many school food and public health advocates who want to keep those standards in place.  Under this temporary compromise, schools still must serve kids fruits and vegetables, but any district which can show “hardship” may be allowed to waive out of the requirement that all grain foods served be 51% whole grain.  Instead, such districts will be allowed to serve these “whole-grain-rich” food only half the time.

This waiver provision is important because if SNA has its way in Congress this year, that weaker whole grain standard will soon be in place nationwide, even for the 90% of schools already meeting the higher standard.  A standard which, I’d like to remind everyone (for the four thousandth time) was set by the non-partisan Institute of Medicine to ensure the long-term health of America’s kids, approved in Congress in 2010 with bipartisan vote  — and supported at the time by the SNA itself.

Apparently the majority of districts in North Carolina are planning to seek the waiver, in part because the current federal standard messes with a regional favorite: the white-flour buttermilk biscuit.  From a piece written late last year:

Lynn Harvey, chief school nutrition services director for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said she heard complaints from many public school districts about the 100-percent whole grain requirement because the reformulation has affected a regional favorite.

“A biscuit is by definition light and fluffy. Whole-grain biscuits are hard, heavy and chewy,” Harvey said.

She said she expects the majority of North Carolina’s school districts to ask for the whole-grain exemption that Congress permitted in the cromnibus.

Now one of those North Carolina districts, the Haywood County school district, has succeeded in showing the requisite hardship, reportedly because participation in its program has dropped by five percent in recent years. This news was trumpeted yesterday by the SNA as the top story in its “Smart Brief” newsletter.

biscuits
Photo: WLOS ABC 13

Both the SNA and Haywood Country are clearly viewing this turn of events as a victory.  In fact, on April 1st, there will be a “big celebration” in Haywood County in which every student and staff member in the district will be receiving free biscuits and gravy. Thereafter, the white flour biscuits and white flour pasta macaroni and cheese (along with, presumably, other white-flour foods) will be returning to Haywood County lunch trays.

Now, I totally understand regional food loyalties and I love a good buttermilk biscuit as much as the next person.  I’d even be fine with tweaking the school nutrition standards to allow districts to offer regional favorites like white tortillas or white biscuits on a limited basis, like once or twice a month.  And maybe, if we’re lucky, that’s the way the current Congressional battle over whole grains will be resolved.

But here’s what’s so troubling to me about this biscuit story.

One only has to watch the local news coverage of the Haywood County waiver to understand that this isn’t just a fight about biscuits. Instead, it’s abundantly clear that the administrators in this district resent what they view as undue federal interference with their lunch program.  One associate superintendent quoted in the news story says the current nutritional standards are “just an unnecessary set of regulations.”  He adds, “Whole grains or ground grains — we’re not so sure that should be a federal regulation,” and suggests, “Let’s leave food selection to parents and let’s not try to manage that from Washington.”

I can’t help but point out the obvious disconnect here: when you’re already talking about a massive federal program like National School Lunch Program, it seems a little misplaced to be complaining about federal regulation of that program.  But let’s say we do want to cede more local control to districts. What happens when we let local entities set child nutritional standards?

It doesn’t always go so well for the kids.

Here in Texas, our legislators actually passed a law in 2013 to try to keep the worst junk food in our schools. And our Big Government-hating new Agriculture Secretary is currently attempting to return deep fat fryers to our schools, an effort which scored big points for him on Fox News but might be a tad less beneficial for the 36% of kids in my state who are already overweight or obese.

Over in Georgia, where 35% of school kids are overweight or obese and where obesity is currently costing that state an estimated $2.4 billion annually, the school board succeeded in gutting the new “Smart Snacks in School” rules so that junk food can now be sold to kids one-half of the school year.

Meanwhile, in Haywood County, 61% of the adults were overweight or obese in 2013 and in 2011 (I could find no more recent data), 39% of its children were overweight or obese.  The leading cause of death in the county is heart disease.  In a 2010 community health survey, when asked what keeps people from being healthy in the county, the number one response was “unhealthy food.”

So when a Haywood County food services director declares in the news report that the federal government’s new nutrition standards are “backfiring,” I can’t help but ask:  from a public health perspective, isn’t it actually the status quo in this county that’s backfiring?

Moreover, given the hostility these local officials seem to feel toward the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act standards, just how hard were these North Carolina school districts trying to make the standards work before asking for a waiver?  Are they using the Smarter Lunchroom techniques, giving active encouragement to get kids to try new foods, offering student sampling programs, or implementing any of the other strategies being successfully used in hundreds of districts around the country?

The occasional biscuit is one thing and, as noted above, I’d have no problem with a change to the school food rules to allow such foods as a treat.  I’d also be fine relaxing the whole grain rules for another year, if that’s what’s needed for manufacturers to tweak their grain formulations.

But if the SNA has its way in Congress this year, white flour foods will once again become prevalent in school meals, contradicting prevailing scientific guidance on child nutrition.  In other words, the Haywood County model will soon be coming to a district near you.

And that, in my opinion, is hardly a development worthy of “celebration.”

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Two More Perspectives on the “FNV” Debate

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.07.02 AMI can imagine that by now some of you are scratching your heads over the amount of virtual ink I’ve recently devoted to the forthcoming “FNV” campaign.

To recap, this is the new effort from the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), funded by a coalition of corporations and nonprofits, that will use high-powered celebrities like Jessica Alba and Nick Jonas as well as junk-food-style marketing tactics to promote fruits and vegetables.  Two weeks ago I wrote a post telling you why I loved the idea, which set off a bit of controversy on Twitter.  That controversy prompted me to contact PHA for more information, which I shared in a follow-up post.  Then Casey Hinds (US Healthy Kids) and I debated the campaign in a series of two posts on Beyond Chron (Hinds’ “con” view is here; my “pro” rebuttal is here.)

And now today I want to share two more perspectives in the debate.

The first post is from one of my favorite kid/food bloggers, Brianne DeRosa of Red Round or Green.  In “Marketing Healthy Foods to Kids – It Isn’t About the Campaign,” DeRosa rightly points out that, totally apart from the ethical issues involved, it’s going to take a whole lot more than marketing to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in this country and she does a great job of explaining why that’s the case.

The second post is from Dr. Daniel Taber, PhD, MPH, an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Taber is a wonderful writer on public health issues and on today’s Beyond Chron he specifically addresses my debate with Hinds (“FNV: Settling the Debate.”)  Here’s a spoiler quote to pique your interest:

It’s rare to see two well-spoken, passionate food policy advocates, both of whom I greatly respect, in disagreement.

The debate was also compelling because I wasn’t sure whose side I was on. I’m an opinionated guy with thoughts on everything from food policy to March Madness to The Bachelor, but I couldn’t settle on a simple question: “Should fruits and vegetables be marketed to children?”

When I finished reading both perspectives, I instantly tweeted that my next blog should be, “Why Hinds and Siegel are both right.”

I changed my mind. Instead, I’m going to write, “Why Hinds is right … and I’m siding with Siegel anyway.”

So, for those of you scratching your heads, just why are so many of us in the food policy world devoting so much thought to the FNV campaign? (Honestly, we may now have collectively spent more time on it than the creators of the campaign itself!)

It’s because the FNV campaign gets to the heart of some really big questions about how we’re going to address our nation’s current public health crisis.  Are we going to work with industry or not?  Should we adopt industry-proven marketing tactics in the fight, or are such tactics inherently problematic since they entice rather than educate?  Can a campaign that’s intended to benefit the private sector also play a legitimate role in public health education?  Is marketing to kids acceptable if the product in question is unequivocally healthful, or is it always unethical?

As a left-leaning advocate, I’m supportive of governmental regulation in this area including, for example, a complete ban on junk food advertising to children as well as the imposition of soda taxes, product warning labels and more.  But I’m also, at heart, a realist.  And if recent events — such as McDonald’s voluntarily agreeing to use antibiotic-free chicken — tell us anything, it’s that the government is now lagging far behind the private sector on many public health issues.  So whenever we can harness market forces to both improve health and increase profits — which, after all, is the hope of the FNV campaign — I believe we should seize those opportunities enthusiastically.

But what do you think?  Or, to use Taber’s  joke on Twitter yesterday, are you on #TeamCasey or #TeamBettina?  I won’t be offended if you’re not on my team, so let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Help a TLT Mom Out: Advocating for Change in a Hostile Food Environment

candyI once attended a conference for food advocates from all over the country and one of the break-out sessions was specifically for those of us working in politically conservative states.  The joke was that wine and sympathetic hugs would be on offer as we shared our sob stories with each other.

That experience reminded me of a TLT reader, whom I’ll call Ellen, who wrote to me a few months ago seeking my help.  I actually shared a bit of Ellen’s story in my new (free!) 40-page ebook, The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom.  I wrote:

While parents should feel free to advocate for the healthiest classroom environment possible, there may come a point when you hit the limits of what your particular community will accept. Here’s what I mean:

You might live in a health-conscious, progressive city and/or your children might attend a school (public or private) in which the parent community is well educated about nutrition — or at least open to nutrition education. Or you might be like one Lunch Tray reader who recently wrote to me in despair. In the small, rural area in which she lives, the school is awash in junk food for every occasion, from parties to fundraisers. Overweight children in her community are generally looked upon as “healthier” than children of normal weight (who are called “pencil-necked” or “beanpole”), and a fellow PTA member once literally told her, “We don’t care about nutrition!”

If you live in the former environment, asking fellow parents to bring in only organic, locally-grown fruits and vegetables for birthdays might be met with excited enthusiasm. In the latter environment, it might get you run out of town by an angry mob.

When I corresponded with Ellen I promised to share her story on the blog to solicit advice from other readers, and I’m doing that belatedly today.  Here are the other pieces to her story:

Fifty percent of the kids in her rural district are on free or reduced price lunch.  At first she was told outright that the district had no wellness policy, but she was intrepid in trying to locate it:

After speaking with the Superintendent’s office twice, several elementary teachers (including P.E. teacher), and the District School Nurse, I called the Students Services Director in the Superintendent’s office- they put me on speakerphone to have me explain to them what a wellness plan is.  Then said they’d look around and get back with me. Sure enough, they found one! Or what they’re calling one.  I now have a hard copy in my possession.

The wellness policy, like most policies written when they were first mandated back in 2004, is quite weak (more on that in my ebook) and the district isn’t even complying with its own low standards. For example, the policy encourages teachers to solicit healthy food for classroom use, yet on her own child’s class supply list parents were asked to bring “a bag of candy” for use as rewards.  She also says preschoolers in the district are given snacks like “brownies, cupcakes, chocolate pudding and pop tarts.”

Ellen has spoken about this a PTO meeting (where she was told, “We don’t care about nutrition!”), she has attended a board meeting to learn more about her district’s policies, and she has taken a school tour with her principal to discuss these issues. Here’s how the talk with the principal went:

When I brought up the idea of wellness, nutrition and obesity, he scoffed and said he didn’t believe in BMI, and said, “Look at Shaquille O’Neil!”. . . . He told me that they don’t really have many celebrations anyway- He said “Just Christmas parties and Valentines, not Easter… Oh except the Kindergarteners and 1st grade- they go to the Nursing Home for an Egg Hunt.”  I just nodded and kept to myself the other celebrations that I know are occurring- Halloween parties in each classroom from 1:30-2:30 today (listed on the website), Veterans Day Breakfast (mentioned at the PTO meeting, planning who will supply the donuts), Donuts with dads, Muffins with Moms (mentioned at the PTO meeting).

Ellen and I have talked about the importance of finding fellow parents who can stand with her in this effort, but she writes:

I would like to try to change my own school district, and have looked for allies, but have come up with no one. Not one person who is willing to help or even feels there’s a problem.

She and I have talked about other things she can do, including seeking support outside the school environment from health professionals and community leaders.  We also talked about how the new USDA wellness policy rules will require schools to be more proactive about student health, including having to report on their progress each year in meeting specific health-related goals.  All of that said, though, I fully recognize that sometimes a school or district is just so mired in the junk food Stone Age, even these sorts of external pressures won’t do much good.

But before Ellen throws up her hands in defeat or moves her kids to another district (something she’s considering), I told her I’d share her story here.  Any additional advice, TLTers?  Please share your thoughts in a comment below or on TLT’s Facebook page.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Arizona, Gutting Federal Rules, Says ALL School Fundraisers Can Sell Junk Food

Well, I thought my own home state of Texas was pretty backward, what with our new Agriculture Commissioner’s plan to bring deep fat fryers back into our schools, but now this news comes out of Arizona: the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, has just announced that she intends to use the “bake sale” loophole in the federal Smart Snacks rules to allow Arizona’s schools to fundraise with junk food every single day of the school year.

Douglas is quoted in Tucson Weekly as saying:

“Forcing parents and other supporters of schools to only offer federally approved food and snacks at fund-raisers is a perfect example of the overreach of government and intrusion into local control.  I have ordered effective immediately, that the ADE Health and Nutrition Services division grant exemptions for all fund-raisers for both traditional public schools and charter public schools.”

Daily fare in Arizona schools?
Daily fare in Arizona schools?

As you may remember, during the 2010 deliberations over the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the legislation which eventually led to the Smart Snacks rules, right wing politicians like Sarah Palin and conservative outlets like Fox News were erroneously claiming that the law would “ban bake sales at schools.”  Sensing a public relations disaster on his hands, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote a letter to Congress reassuring legislators that the USDA would “consider special exemptions for occasional school-sponsored fundraisers such as bake sales.” He later also wrote a piece for the Huffington Post to inform the public that:

USDA has given states complete authority to set policies on fundraisers and bake sales that work for them. States are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales featuring foods and beverages that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose. They, not USDA, are responsible for determining the number and the frequency of these events each year.

Since the Smart Snacks rules went into effect last summer, some states have used this discretion in a measured way, either by disallowing all junk food fundraising or granting just a few days a year for such sales.  But in conservative-leaning states, the Smart Snacks loophole has given politicians the perfect vehicle to show their general disdain for federal regulation, regardless of the consequences for student health.

Georgia, for example, allows 30 three-day fundraisers, which amounts to one-half of the school year.  But the state that’s really giving Arizona a run for its money in this perverse competition is Oklahoma, which now allows 30 fundraisers a year, each lasting up to 14 days . . .  or 420 days a year.  (Way to go, Oklahoma! You’ve not only flouted federal rules but also the principles of basic math!)

When I was given my opportunity to “interview” USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon late last year,  I asked him about this very issue.  My question was:

The Smart Snacks rules have been a huge step forward in getting junk food off of school campuses.  However, as you know, when the rules were in draft form, the USDA floated two competing proposals for “exempt fundraisers.”  In the first proposal, states would have had to seek USDA approval of whatever maximum number they chose, while in the second proposal, states would be given complete discretion, with no federal oversight.  The USDA opted for the latter, and now some states are exploiting this loophole to the fullest.  For example,Georgia recently voted to allow its schools to hold 30 junk food fundraisers a year, each lasting up to three days, which means any junk food may be sold to Georgia kids during the school day for fully one-half of the school year.  What do you think about states like Georgia and, in retrospect, does the USDA now regret giving states so much autonomy?

Mr. Concannon’s reply:

. . . .USDA has provided flexibility for states to manage fundraisers at the state level. This is a local decision, as USDA understands that fundraisers are time-honored traditions that support local school activities, including class trips, athletic programs and the purchase of school supplies. States also have the flexibility to modify their fundraising policy at any time during the school year should they wish to do so, or in future years. USDA/FNS has been and will continue to work with our  State partners to reach out to schools and other stakeholders in the school community to provide training, technical assistance and resources to ensure that they understand the new rules, and have the tools and information they need to succeed.

In other words, a non-answer answer.

[Editorial update (2/18/15):  According to this report, Arizona PTAs are thrilled to resume making money off of kids’ health.  Lovely.  Hat tip: Casey Hinds of US Healthy Kids. ]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Thank you!

As I close out the first week in my new digs here on The Lunch Tray, I just wanted to send out a thank you to all of you….

One big piece of my blog redesign was creating my new classroom junk food guide, and I wrote most of it over winter break,  passing up quite a few sunny Houston days to hole up in a library to get it all done.  I wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but the feedback has been really positive!  Here are a few reader responses:

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your work to bring healthy eating into the classroom. I love the new Guide and will use it to continue to work with my son’s Kindergarten teacher who doesn’t seem to get it. (Nor does the school wellness committee – which doesn’t have a nutrition component).

Can’t wait to read this. I’m the only teacher on campus with a no junk food policy. Hoping for change.

Thanks so much, this is excellent! I’m the pta health & wellness chair at 2 schools & I am trying to bring nutrition education into the schools & create a healthier classroom environment with school parties and such. I started a committee & this is going to help!

Thank You Sooooo much! Just felt defeated as my heart healthy menu that was originally approved got shot down by parents in favor of pizza and junk. I feel like my prayer just got answered-and to not give up!

I’m under no illusions that junk food will disappear from classrooms overnight.  In fact, next week I’m going to share here the story of the mom mentioned in passing in the ebook who lives in a rural area that’s almost comically resistant to promoting healthier food at school. (I’m hoping you’ll be able to give her some advice–  or at least some empathy!)

But when I see responses like the ones above, I do feel hopeful that if we all keep plugging away at this problem, the situation is bound to approve.  And if my guide in any way can help those efforts, it was totally worth the time it took to put it together.  :-)

(Also, many thanks to the Fooducate blog for writing about the ebook in a post today!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!  More TLT next week….

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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My New 40-Page eBook on Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom

Kids Classroom Guide FinalAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in conjunction with The Lunch Tray’s relaunch I’ve also created what I hope will be a really useful resource for Lunch Tray readers.  It’s a 40-page (!) ebook devoted to the number one complaint I hear from you most often: the unwelcome influx of junk food into your child’s classroom.

In The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom, I address a wide variety of topics including: how wellness policies and the new federal “Smart Snacks” rules relate to classroom junk food; the tricky problem of birthday treats and how to respond to your opponents on that issue; the use of junk food as a classroom reward; the use of candy as a teaching “manipulative;” kids and sugar consumption; and much more.  Here’s a sneak peek slide show of a few of the book’s pages, including the table of contents:

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The book includes tips and materials from some of my favorite fellow bloggers, including Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, Casey Hinds of U.S. Healthy Kids and Stacy Whitman of School Bites, as well as a Resources section with links to helpful websites and organizations.  It also links to my new and improved Pinterest boards, which now have separate collections devoted to healthy classroom celebrations, grouped by holiday or occasion.

To receive your totally free copy of the ebook, just enter your email address here.  You’ll also be signed up to receive The Lunch Tray’s new newsletter, which will share prior Lunch Tray posts as well as features like kid-approved recipes, cooking tips and tricks, kid-food news items and more.  (Rest assured: I’ll never, ever share your email with any third party and you can unsubscribe at any time.)

In this ebook I’ve drawn on my own real-life lessons in advocacy to offer my best advice, and I welcome your feedback and suggestions for future editions.  I really hope you like it!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Ag Commissioner Miller on Fox News: Distortions as Big as the State of Texas

Last week this blog was devoted to discussing Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s first act in office –  a declaration of “cupcake amnesty” – as well as his plan to bring deep fat fryers and sodas back to our public schools.

As I explained here and in a Houston Chronicle op-ed on Friday, since 2005 Texas state law has explicitly allowed parents and grandparents to bring to school any food they wish, including cupcakes, on a child’s birthday.  So when Mr. Miller chose as his first act in office to “pardon” cupcakes for no apparent reason, I initially gave him the benefit of the doubt by stating, “I can’t tell whether Mr. Miller and his advisors are being intentionally deceptive or are just plain ignorant.”

Now I have no choice but to settle on the former explanation.

Even after a lead story in the Texas Tribune and op-ed in the state’s second largest newspaper both called out Mr. Miller on his misrepresentations of Texas law, he still went on Fox & Friends on Sunday to crow about his bogus granting of “cupcake amnesty.” You can watch the interview, which is about three minutes long, below:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.55.48 AM

Here are just some of the grossly inaccurate statements made by Mr. Miller in the clip, none of which were caught — or even questioned — by the Fox interviewer, Tucker Carlson:

MILLER:  “One of the first acts I did when I got into office was to repeal every mandate of from the Texas Department of Agriculture to our local school districts.”

The Texas School Nutrition Policy (TSNP) was repealed last April —  eight months before Mr. Miller assumed office.  And it was repealed not to let Texas districts do whatever they wanted, but to harmonize our state law with far stricter federal regulations that were about to go into effect.  (But I guess that’s not the sort of thing a conservative politician wants to reveal on Fox News.)

CARLSON asks if the prior Texas policy had “in effect, been telling parents what they could feed to their own children” and MILLER responds, “Well, that’s correct. And we just don’t do that in Texas.  We believe in local control, individual responsibility and freedom from burdensome government regulations.”

Nothing in the TSNP in any way restricted what parents could feed their own children, whether the food was provided in a home-packed lunch, a snack brought from home for a child’s consumption at school, or as birthday treats sent in by a parent or grandparent.  Carlson’s statement and Miller’s affirmation of it are 100% false.

MILLER:  “The federal childhood nutritional program is a huge failure. .  . .  School districts all over the United States are dropping out of the program.”

False. According to the USDA, “very few schools (only 0.15% of schools nationwide) reported dropping out of the programs due to struggles over providing kids healthy food.”

MILLER, after being shown Texas childhood obesity statistics, says “These [Texas] rules were put in ten years ago, in 2004, and those figures haven’t gotten any better. So government hasn’t worked but individual responsibility, local control is what works.  So we’re getting out of the school mandate business.” CARLSON: “So, just to be clear, for ten years cupcakes have been banned and those numbers are still the same? MILLER:  “Yeah, that’s correct.  Didn’t work.”  

As noted, cupcakes haven’t been banned in Texas for ten years, they’ve been expressly allowed in Texas for the last ten years.  So this entire exchange between Miller and Carlson is nonsensical.

But let’s generously assume Miller is speaking here of the TSNP and not of some nonexistent “cupcake ban.”  While Texas’s childhood obesity rate does remain stubbornly high, what would it look like today if the TSNP hadn’t been in place for the last decade to curb the worst junk food on school campuses?  If Commissioner Miller actually does return deep fat fryers and sodas to Texas public schools, we’ll all find out soon enough.

*  *  *

Reasonable people can disagree about the proper role of government in feeding children, but Miller isn’t looking for intellectually honest debate.  Instead, he’s playing fast and loose with the facts — and our children’s health — to establish himself in the media as a freedom-loving, regulation-hating Texan.  Now that he’s had his three minutes of fame on Fox News, we can only hope he’ll move on.

But if Miller is truly serious about rolling back school nutrition in this state, he needs to understand a thing or two about messing with Texas moms:

 

(For the non-Texans among my readership, my carrot battle flag is a play on this.)

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What She Said

One thing I love about being part of a blogging community is the way we can draw upon each other’s work and resources to advocate for our common goals.

That’s how I felt when I read this recent post from Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, addressing critics who think that instead of reining in the food and beverage industries’ $2-billion-a-year effort to market junk food to children, parents should just stand firm and say “no” to their kids.  This is a common refrain from those who oppose limits on youth junk food marketing and Sally’s post is such a definitive and perfect response, from now on I’m just going to link to it every time this issue comes up and say, “What she said.”  It’s definitely worth your time to read.

There’s only one point on which I and some of my colleagues (including, perhaps, Sally) differ when it comes to the marketing of food to children.  I’m previously on record as supporting youth-directed marketing of just one type of product —  whole or minimally processed fruits and vegetables — even though some advocates believe even this type of marketing is taking unfair advantage of kids.

But as I wrote in a debate on this issue with advocate Casey Hinds in Beyond Chron earlier this year, “Given that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is unequivocally good for children, how different are [such] efforts from using Sesame Street characters to encourage kids to brush their teeth or licensing Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat character to get them reading?”  You can read the entire debate with Casey here.

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The Challenges and Rewards of Feeding Teens

The other night I was trying to use up some vegetables in the crisper drawer, so I added some spinach to my Italian wedding soup and served it with roasted Brussels sprouts, sautéd mushrooms and grilled cheese sandwiches made with sliced pears and a pretty “stinky” cheese, taleggio.  We sat down at the dinner table and, while not everyone ate everything, my kids ate most of what I’d offered without complaint.   And that’s when I realized just how far we’ve come in the TTL household: not that long ago, the same meal would have been far too challenging for my kids, each for their own idiosyncratic reasons.

That dinner led me to reflect on how gratifying it’s been lately to feed a high school freshman and a seventh grader.  (And, by the way, when did that happen?).

For one thing, adolescents are hungry pretty much all the time, and hunger creates a greater willingness to try new foods; I’m sure my son’s expanding vegetable repertoire is related to the fact that he’s shooting up like a weed.  And while peer pressure often leads kids to eat less healthfully, it can have the opposite effect, too.  For example, there’s a restaurant near my house which offers only locally grown foods in the form of healthful salads and sandwiches.  My daughter, who used to spurn both salads and sandwiches, hated it when I dragged her there — until it became a popular hangout spot for her social set.  Now she eats both of those foods with enthusiasm because her friends do, too.

But adolescence can also undermine healthful eating.  Teens are always on the go, which means a lot of grabbing whatever’s at hand.  Lunch hour at school can be more about social interaction than the meal, and older teens may also have the option to leave campus for nearby fast food restaurants.  Sugary, caffeinated drinks at Starbucks become an enticing badge of adulthood.  And, of course, eating lots of junk food with gusto can be a way for teens to feel rebellious, especially if they have a particularly health-conscious parent. (If you didn’t see our discussion of the “Snackwave” meme on TLT’s Facebook page a while back, this article about it is worth a read.)

But as Jill Castle observed in an April New York Times Motherlode post about feeding teens, parents have to know when to let go.  Adolescence is the time when you have to rely on the (hopefully) solid groundwork you’ve laid down since birth, trusting that kids will return to healthier eating habits as young adults.

It’s also the time for kids to take more responsibility for caring for their own bodies, since soon you won’t be around to play gatekeeper at all.  So when my teens ask me to buy some junk food I’d rather keep out of the house, I’ll explain my reasons for saying no, but I might also mention that once they’re in college, they’ll have complete autonomy over what they eat.  That reminder tends to cause a moment of sober reflection, and now when I see my daughter making healthy food choices of her own accord, or when she asks me questions about nutrition, I wonder to what degree she’s “rehearsing” for life on her own in less than four years.  (Sniff!)

If you’re a parent of a teen or pre-teen, be sure to check out a recent Teen Being piece from Sally Kuzemchak, blogger at Real Mom Nutrition — “Are You Being Snacked to Death?”  The article is written for teen readers and offers solid advice on healthy snacking without being condescending.  It also explains in simple terms how the food industry has a vested interest in getting kids to eat highly processed junk food, which is a nice bit of “inoculation” that works well with kids of this age.  I also loved this sweet 2012 post from Katie Morford of Mom’s Kitchen Handbook, in which she lays out eight pieces of advice for feeding on-the-go and sometimes rebellious adolescents.  Her last rule is by far the most important:

Lighten up There are worse things that could happen than skipping an occasional meal and worse places they could go than the drive thru. It’s what they eat day in day out, not once in a while, that matters.

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Needing a Doctor’s Note to Feed Your Child Healthy Food?

civil eats logoImagine that your child’s daycare center regularly offers snacks like Rice Krispies treats and cookies, and then demands proof of your child’s medical “disability” when you ask to send healthier food from home.  That disturbing scenario is a very real one for some parents, and today I have a reported piece in Civil Eats about this practice and the reasons underlying it.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

 

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Today I Debate the Ethics of Marketing Healthy Food to Kids

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.18.52 AMToday on Beyond Chron, I debate my friend and colleague Casey Hinds of US Healthy Kids on the ethics of marketing healthy foods like fruits and vegetables to children.  You can read my “pro” piece here, and Casey’s “con” here.

Thanks to Beyond Chron for giving us this platform, and to Casey for having the idea of a debate in the first place.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, too, in a comment here on The Lunch Tray or on Beyond Chron.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Using Junk Food Tactics – and Flavorings – To Market Carrots to Kids

Packaging from the original "Eat 'Em Like Junk  Food" effort
Packaging from the original “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” effort

In 2010 I told you about a new $25 million ad campaign, sponsored by carrot growers, to attract kids to baby carrots through the use of junk food-style packaging and marketing.  Back then I mocked the effort, saying:

Somehow I don’t think today’s kids are going to willingly trade in their Flamin’ Hot Cheetos for carrots, no matter how cool the packaging (but at least with carrots, the orange doesn’t come off on your fingers.)

But it turned out the last laugh was on me.  Just one year later I reported that the “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” campaign, led by former Coca-Cola executive Jeff Dunn, was actually successful in increasing baby carrot sales.

Since then, many of us have learned a lot more about Dunn and his efforts from Michael Moss’s best-selling Salt, Sugar, Fat, which profiles how this once-enthusiastic promoter of sugary soda had a crisis of conscience, left his high level position at Coke and decided to use his marketing skills for good.

Yet despite Dunn’s early success with the “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” campaign, I still remained skeptical of his goals precisely because carrots lack the headliners of Moss’s book:  salt, sugar and fat.  It’s Big Food’s careful manipulation of these palate-pleasing ingredients that hook us on junk food and keep us coming back for more, and so it seemed to me that the humble carrot was never going to be able to compete on a serious level with the micro-engineered Nacho Cheese Dorito.

veggie snackers carrotsBut once again I’ve underestimated Dunn’s savvy.  This week NPR reports that Dunn is implementing the next phase of his carrot campaign, in which junk-food style flavorings like Ranch and Chile Lime are added to baby carrots in a product called Veggie Snackers:

When kids open the package and shake in the seasoning, the carrots take on some of the characteristics of chips like Doritos. “They give you that crunch and flavor,” says Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse. “You’re going to lick your fingers, and get that same sensory [experience] you get with salty snacks.”

(Here’s a video of how the Veggie Snacker packaging works.)

There are those who object on a philosophical level to the use of any junk-food marketing tactics to market to kids, even if the product itself is healthy.  (I should note here that the flavorings in Veggie Snackers are 100% natural.)  For example, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) tweeted yesterday:

Is commercializing the veggie aisle & selling kids on extreme carrots that taste like Doritos the best way to improve kids’ diets?

And Michele Simon of Eat Drink Politics, also a staunch opponent of any marketing to children, tweeted:

how will kids learn to eat more veggies if they must always be heavily seasoned and marketed?

But Barry Cohen, who tweets under the handle @GeneralHealthy, responded:

Idealism vs. meeting kids where their brains & their parents’ brains are. Is eating more veggies good?

And he also asked:

If we triple kids’ consumption of whole veggies and displace the real junk…isn’t that a good thing?

This debate echoes another, similar one that took place here on The Lunch Tray last November.  At that time, First Lady Michelle Obama had just announced that the Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) would join the Partnership for a Healthier America to help promote fruits and vegetables to kids.  Under the deal, which Mrs. Obama helped broker, PMA’s growers, suppliers and retailers are allowed to use for two years iconic characters such as Elmo and Big Bird in messaging and on produce sold in stores — without paying any licensing fees.

In that case, too, both the CCFC and Simon felt that any marketing to children was wrong, even for fruits and vegetables.  But as I wrote in “It’s OK, Let Elmo Be a Carrot Pusher,” I don’t believe junk food will ever disappear from our society, nor do I believe that our elected officials will impose meaningful curbs on the marketing of junk food to children any time soon.  And we also know that currently only one in five high schoolers are getting the recommended “five servings a day” of produce.  

Given those hard realities, and given that I will always be more of a realist than an idealist, I’m  willing to let people like Dunn try to beat the junk food industry at its own game and use the same tactics to draw children to healthier food.  And with respect to the flavorings per se, is the addition of a chile lime spice mix so very different from offering kids carrots with ranch dressing or hummus,or making sweetened yogurt- or sour cream-based dips for fruit — all time-honored, mom-approved techniques for getting kids to eat more produce?

But what do you think, TLT’ers?  Are you disturbed by the use of Doritos-style marketing and flavoring to entice kids to eat baby carrots? Or are you, like me, wondering if you can get your hands on this product at your local grocery store?  Let me hear what you have to say in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A New Initiative to Get Junk Food Out of Classrooms

Credit:  School Bites
Credit: School Bites

I’ve written a lot over the years (really, A LOT – see the Related Links below) about junk food in school classrooms, whether distributed by teachers as rewards for good behavior and academic performance or served as part of birthday or classroom celebrations.

It’s important to note that these practices are not addressed by the new federal Smart Snacks in School rules because the sort of junk food we’re talking about here is merely offered to kids, not sold, and therefore it isn’t considered “competitive food” under these new rules.

To help improve the classroom food environment, I’ve shared my own TLT Food in the Classroom Manifesto, which lists ten reasons why I think classrooms should be junk-food-free (and, ideally, food-free), I’ve solicited a huge number of reader ideas for food-free birthday celebrations (Real Mom Nutrition has a good list here, too), and I’ve also referred you to a useful handout for teachers created by Spoonfed.

To that growing list of resources I’m glad to add an exciting new Healthy Classrooms Initiative created by School Bites blogger Stacy Whitman, along with a registered dietitian.  What’s great about Stacy’s effort is that it’s a complete program, providing teachers with educational presentations by clinical dietitians, Healthy Classrooms signage, a pledge to sign, information for parents and more.  You can read all the details and access the program’s materials for possible use in your own school here. Bravo, Stacy!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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