Local school officials said Friday they supported a decision by the U.S. Agriculture Department to eliminate the sale of all junk food in schools.
The decision also was praised by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who had encouraged the agency to make the move as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act, an effort she led to reform child nutrition that was signed into law in 2010.
Junk food is defined as anything that does not meet USDA nutrition standards. This includes foods with total fat accounting for more than 35 percent of their calories, with some exceptions, and snack items with more than 200 milligrams of salt. A standard bag of potato chips would be considered junk food by these standards.
Edmeston Central School has been working toward those goals for several years, Superintendent Brian Hunt said.
“We have to work on portion size, but we have most of these things in place already,” he said.
Thanks to the efforts of food service director Brian Belknap and his staff, “we have been working on offering healthier food for some time now,” Hunt said.
For example, a lot of the food that is served in the school is prepared from scratch using local produce, he said.
“We even have a greenhouse,” Hunt said.
Soda has already been removed from the menu. The school offers baked chips, which are lower in fat and salt than junk food. And the kitchen uses fresh potatoes bought locally instead of frozen processed potatoes.
“In general, students have gone along with the changes,” he said. “Sometimes we have to be creative.”
This includes offering yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit. The student also are offered brownies and cookies, but they are not that big as they used to be.
USDA’s new ruling draws on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already enacted by thousands of schools nationwide and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.