March 04, 2004
Schools to serve less junk food

Texas school cafeterias have been told to shape up or ship out.

The new food rules limit everything from fund-raising bake sales to grams of fat and will have an impact on 93 percent of Texas public and charter schools, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

French fries survived a no-fried-foods ban, to be phased in over five years, but will have to be baked and served no more than once a week to elementary schoolchildren.

Second helpings are out. Smaller portions for chips, cookies, bakery items and frozen desserts are in.

"This policy is the result of months of collaboration with experts and interested individuals around the state who consider children's health and education a top priority," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.

"We think this is absolutely achievable. We wouldn't have done it otherwise," she said.


The new policies take effect Aug. 1 for all schools that participate in the National School Lunch, School Breakfast and After School Snack programs. Combs said she's releasing the guidelines now because districts are signing or renewing food service contracts with vendors.

Schools will face tough penalties for failure to comply with the new policy.


The guidelines call for 100 percent real fruit juice, skim and low-fat milk, fresh fruit and vegetables if possible and smaller sized soft drinks in vending machines in the high schools.

Candy is banned for elementary schoolchildren and restricted to after lunch for middle and high school students. All deep-fat frying is to be eliminated by 2009, limits are set for fats and sugars and schools must reduce purchase of products with heart-risky trans fat.

Franchise operations such as McDonald's and Taco Bell would have to comply with the guidelines in order to continue operating in lunchrooms.

Schools with fryers will need to find ways to buy ovens.

"They're not going to be able to sell fryers in the state of Texas. They're making us phase them out completely," said Terry Gooch, assistant director of the Texas Association for School Nutrition. "There's not too many districts in the whole state that don't have fryers."

What little I remember of school cafeteria french fries tells me that this is no great loss. But what I really want to know is are there any new rules about Mystery Meat?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 04, 2004 to Food, glorious food | TrackBack

While I applaud their efforts, they're making some basic mistakes. For instance, for school-age children, whole milk is a healthier choice than skim or low-fat. Nor is a unilateral ban on "seconds" necessarily a good idea.

Also, as you pointed out, the elimination of Mystery Meat would go far toward reconciling kids to accepting the food they were served. I have memories of those gray 'hamburger' patties to this very day....

Posted by: Anne on March 4, 2004 2:48 PM

I agree, Anne. I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, childhood obesity has become a serious problem in the last two decades, and something had to be done.

But the new rules seem to go too far in several places, and in the long run, I don't think they solve anything. My own personal experience is instructive. I was a skinny kid, because I never liked most of the foods on a "healthy" diet. But once freed from dependence on school lunches and my parents' dinners, I gained quite a bit of weight.

Didn't become "obese" until I moved to Texas, though :-)

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 4, 2004 3:26 PM

My plan is much simpler. I say build elementary school cafeterias a half a mile away from the school buildings forcing the little munchkins to walk a mile for lunch.

Posted by: Patrick on March 4, 2004 3:42 PM

They're going about this the wrong way.

I, and most of the kids I grew up with some 25-30 years ago, ate pretty much whatever we wanted (or our parents would buy), in whatever quantities we wanted.

We weren't fat -- for some of us, that came well into adulthood if at all.

The problem is that kids today aren't exercising. When I was growing up, back in the '70s, we went outside and played as much as Mom and Dad would let us. Most days in the summer, we would leave the house at 9:00 or 10:00 AM and play baseball at the park until sundown, pausing only for mealtimes. And as we all had different mealtimes, the game was nonstop; only substitutions kept it going during the staggered dinner hours.

Today? It's all about Nintendos and XBoxes and TV and computer stuff. These are fine and good in moderation, but are all too often used as electronic babysitters. Add to that the fact that today's parent seems unable to allow Junior to walk three or four blocks to school any more -- gotta pick 'em up! -- and you have a recipe for obesity.

If today's kids were half as active as most of those in my neighborhood were 25-30 years ago, there wouldn't be all this hysteria over kids drinking a sugared Coke or french fries. The real enemy is a sedentary lifestyle, not diet; but for parents and do-gooder school administrators, it's far easier to legislate diet than exercise. Gotta look like we're doing something useful, y'know...

Posted by: Tim on March 4, 2004 8:40 PM

It wasn't mystery meat at my school. One day would be hamburgers, the next was chopped-up hamburger in gravy. It was like clockwork. And it was always served with corn and mashed potatoes, as I recall.

More kids own bikes, but they ride them less. Given what I've seen at nearby schools, very few kids walk to school anymore. What few kids I do see, though, are lugging around backpacks that look very heavy, something I'm surprised to see happening with kids in the lower grades.

We live on a quiet side street. I rarely see kids who live near us playing out front, let alone in the street like we always did when I was a kid. The yards here are bigger than where I grew up, but I know I'm much more likely to find kids playing inside somebody's house than in a yard. It all adds up eventually. Even if the kids can't do the math. :)

Posted by: Sue on March 5, 2004 8:59 AM

THis is an outrage, Im a high school student at Lewisvillle HS in LEwisville Texas just north of Dallas. I play football, im a senior this year and Im 6'3 250 lbs, when I found out about this reduced lunch crap I immediatley tried to find out what I could do to change it or at least find someone to complain to. If anyone can be of help I would appreciate it, our school serves half the food for the same price as last year the only thing they are doing is making kids suffer through an entire day of school on an empty stomach, its ok to make the servings healthier but at our school theyve done nothing of the sort, they still serve unhealthy foods, just less of it. I cannot tell what a pain in the ass that is when I go to football practice for 3 hours after a lunch fit for a circus midget. Any helpful suggestions?

Posted by: Andrew on August 17, 2004 8:39 AM