The Smart Snack rule was rolled out this summer and stated that schools must ensure all foods sold to kids during the school day (called “Smart Snacks”) meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines—the same guidelines school cafeterias are expected to meet. This rule did allow states to provide exemptions. Most states have decided against allowing any exemptions, while about a dozen states allowed 3-5 on average.
Georgia, however, now has the highest number of exemptions -30 – in the U.S., each of which can last up to three days. This means that any kind of junk food could be sold to kids on 90 of a school year’s 180 days.
Yesterday, the board opened the discussion up to comments from the public, and several school nutrition staff and health advocates pleaded board members to reconsider their vote. As Karen Mathis, Paulding County School District Nutrition Director spoke, she held up an apple and box of doughnuts to board members.
She explained that even adults would have a difficult time making the healthy choice, so how can we expect children to make the right decision when constantly being faced with the temptations of cheap junk food. Many school nutrition staff have been working hard to keep up with the new healthier regulations on school food—and it feels unfair to be held to these rules when others are not.
The crux of this issue is that it takes time, resources, education, and consistent positive adult modeling to convince children to choose healthier foods. When school meals are competing with junk food, it’s an uphill battle. As Trae Cown of Hall County put it, “We should be leaders, someone kids can turn to when they’re deciding what to eat at home.”
The Paulding County Superintendent Cliff Cole told the AJC that the regulations were hampering fundraising efforts and, “Not that I want to be a promo for Chick-fil-A, but who doesn’t like a Chick-fil-A biscuit?” Several other speakers were sympathetic to the money that schools need to raise, but begged that this financial burden not be placed on the backs of children by encouraging them to purchase unhealthy foods while in school.
In the end, only one School Board Member, Ken Manson of District 5, voted no. While he stated that he was torn, he said, “I feel we have an opportunity here to make a statement.”