Starting this year, Blair students will no longer be able to purchase some snack items from the school cafeteria because of new MCPS guidelines. However, some say the guidelines do not constitute a significant nutritional change.
This initiative was prompted by a 1999 Surgeon General study that found 14 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 are overweight or obese, nearly triple the number two decades ago. The study also found that many adolescents lead inactive lives and are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult onset disease.
The new guidelines, aimed at improving the nutritional value of a la carte items, state that such offerings must have a fat content of 50 percent or less or have at least five percent of a person's daily requirement of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium or iron.
As a result of the guidelines, Regular Lays chips, pretzels and popcorn have been removed from the a la carte menu.
Items like Nacho Cheese chips, BBQ Baked Lays, Cheez-Its and Peanut Butter Energy Bars will replace the newly removed items. These items meet the county standards, but some feel that the new products are nearly as unhealthy as the old ones.
"It's such a negligible difference in choices as far as fat content goes," says clinical dietician Asha Jain of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "They just took out one kind of chips and replaced it with another."
The a la carte palate is a concern because students often use its items, meant to supplement a student's meal, as the main course for lunch. According to Cafeteria Manager Maddalena Bianchini, on average, 2,700 a la carte items are sold daily compared with 300 lunches.
Because federally subsidized lunches are not fully funded, many schools make up for this deficit through the a la carte. "The school cafeteria is a business," says Barry Sackin, governmental affairs director for the American School Food Service Association, which represents school nutritionists. "If you're running a business and you need to pay the bills, you need to sell what people buy."
Still, the most commonly purchased a la carte item is not a type of junk food but milk, according to Sackin.
But in Blair, the most popular items sold from the a la carte, according to Bianchini, are nachos, chicken nuggets, french fries and pizza. These well-liked items are often cooked in the same way as the foods sold in the lunch line.
However, Marla Caplon, supervisor of the food service programs for the Blair, Kennedy and Einstein high school clusters, says because the a la carte items are not claimed for reimbursement, they do not have to meet nutritional requirements.
Junior Deena Thompson often refuels during lunch with glazed donuts or Doritos chips from the a la carte. "I buy things that are probably unhealthy for me," she admits. "But I buy them because I like them, or I don't want to waste time in longer lines."
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