Food Regs Cause Schools to Turn to Healthier ‘Bake Sales’

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Say goodbye to the old-fashioned bake sale, with ooey-gooey cupcakes and donuts, and say hello to auctions, healthy treat sales, and fun runs.

Associated Press reporter Mary Claire Jalonick writes that the government rules requiring many schools to create more nutritious fundraisers, and that go along with the trend in healthier eating in schools, may mean that the age-old bake sale is in trouble. The changes mean that some schools are selling things like fruit all the way to kid-friendly shoelaces for fundraisers.

Some states are able to dodge the rules, but many schools are ditching cookies for healthier fare. The Agriculture Department regulations, which began last summer, mandate that all foods sold on school campuses during the school day meet certain nutrition guidelines. These rules include school fundraisers, unless a state chooses to be exempt.

The National Association of State Boards of Education says that fewer than half the states have asked for exemptions. The plan is to do away with frequent fundraisers which promote the sale of junk food and instead to point the students, and the money they spend, to healthier foods sold in the cafeteria and elsewhere on the campus.

Kristen Amundson, the association’s director, says the group has been asking state boards to give careful thought to whether they need exemptions. “Do you really want a bake sale every day, 180 days a year?” Amundson said. “Maybe, but probably not.”

The standards were passed in 2010 and are part of a government initiative backed by the first lady Michelle Obama. It was then when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he would allow exemptions for fundraisers, wanting to leave the issue up to the states. The actual language was that “infrequent fundraisers” would be allowed under the rules of exemption, but Vilsack did not define “infrequent.”

The Smart Snacks program is an extension of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, says Zoe Ferguson, writing for Bustle, which is based on helping schools make healthy choices available to students not just in the lunchroom, but also food sold through school fundraisers.

The first lady is convinced that people will embrace the changes when they realize how good they are for them. She acknowledges that change is difficult, especially when it involves something as personal as food. Still, she thinks kids will learn to love their healthier new diets. Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, in August of last year stated on the USDA Blog site that:

“Food sold at after-school sporting events, weekend school plays and other events is unaffected. It does not prevent band or athletic boosters or other fundraising organizations from hosting fundraisers after school or on the weekends. It also does not prohibit sales of foods meant to be consumed at home, like frozen pizzas and cookie dough, during the school day. Schools can also choose to hold as many fundraisers as they want during the school day that feature foods that meet the Smart Snacks standards.”

One fervent opponent of the Smart Snack Program is Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who has introduced a bill to keep the “federal food police” out of schools, wriets Peter Sullivan, reporting for The Hill. Bill H.R. 881 is aimed at preventing the federal nutrition standards from being applied to school fundraisers.

“The federal food police need to stay out of our schools,” Poe said in a statement. “First, the regulators came into our lunchrooms, then vending machines and now school fundraisers.”

He adds that Washington bureaucrats have no business getting involved in what Americans eat. According to Poe, this is a gross overreach which is also depriving public schools funds for extracurricular activities. He continued by saying that, “Congress should not fund any efforts to implement this abuse of government power.”