School might be out for the summer, but new school food policy is taking shape now for September. Earlier this week legislation to declare a “Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week” was unanimously approved by the Assembly. Under this measure, students throughout the state would be greeted in the fall by events to educate them about New Jersey’s agriculture and the value of fresh, local produce.
Native New Jerseyans already know we have a diverse range of local produce. We’re not called the Garden State for nothing. But what residents might not know is our state is among the top 10 producers of fruits and vegetables in the nation. Now the schools in this state are finally going to put that status to good use.
Some area schools, though, feel more comprehensive change is needed. To that end they are devising individual food policies governing consumption inside school buildings. A couple of months ago, Montclair’s Nishuane School instituted new snack procedures, specifying a list of approved and banned snacks. Children will be allowed only water at snack time, and if they bring a snack from the contraband list they will not be allowed to eat it. They will be offered pretzels instead. Forbidden foods include fruit roll-ups or gummies; popcorn; chips; candy, cookies and cake of any kind; Rice Crispy Treats; and nuts and peanut butter. Fruits, vegetables, whole grain crackers, yogurt, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, icing-free animal crackers, and low-fat, low-sugar granola bars are all acceptable foods.
The board policy and USDA guidelines do allow for exceptions when it comes to curriculum and celebrations so parents are still allowed to send in small birthday treats. Parents are also permitted control over the lunches they prepare for their children but are encouraged to send a balanced lunch.
Elementary students in Verona aren’t as lucky.
They won’t get any low-fat, icing-free cupcakes to celebrate their birthdays. The schools’ new policy states “food will no longer be served as part of any child’s birthday celebration.” If parents wish, they may send in a non-food treat such as bookmarks or pencils. The policy makes clear the only thing children will be eating in school next year is the food their parents send in from home. Verona schools have not issued a forbidden food list, but bake sales will no longer be allowed during school hours.
This bake sale policy is similar to one instituted recently in New York City public schools, which limits the sales in an effort to combat childhood obesity. In this effort WNYC reported the city’s Health Department took one step further, suggesting fundraising without food. The health department, apparently in line with the Obamas, outlined these suggestions in their booklet titled “Yes You Can! A Fresh Look at Healthy Fundraisers for Schools.” The department hopes to change the parental perception that the easiest and only way to raise money for schools is through food. In fact, many of the ideas in the book such as flower, jewelry and student photo sales came from parent groups. Sales like these, one parent group from Harlem said, raised more money than a pie sale held before Thanksgiving.
Schools across the nation are being challenged by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to go the way of the garden state and Big Apple. And Jaime Oliver definitely wants a revolution. He’s already bringing it to the school cafeterias in this country.
Yes, maybe with the combined efforts of the First Lady, Jamie Oliver, and public schools across the nation, we can!
For the elementary students of Verona, however, parties will never be the same. The school will still hold a number of parties, there will just be no food to go with them. The focus will be on activities other than food, and the students can eat the snacks sent in by their parents. But what will become of the annual Thanksgiving Feast? It might become the first feast without food.
(Photo: Flickr: Masahiro Ihara)