In July 2012, the Aiken County School District and others throughout the country began complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's then-new requirements for healthier lunches.
Beginning formally in midsummer, new regulations will require “Smart Snacks” – a program approved in 2010 as a phase-in process with the title Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
“We're going to eliminate junk food in the schools,” Food Service Director Glenda Wafford told Aiken School Board members earlier this month. That means the elimination or reduction of such items as wrapped cakes and candy with excessive sugar, sodium and fat.
According to a USDA publication, the revamped rules will impact “school stores, athletic departments, biscuits in car lines, vending machines and the foods from those sources that are sold to students.”
However, these requirements on a school campus won't apply to items sold 30 minutes after dismissal and no later than midnight. That means PTOs, for example, can sell candy and similar items at a football game on campus.
Still, the new regulations will impact PTOs, clubs, athletic teams, ROTC programs and school bands.
Ron Freeman, the Naval Junior ROTC commander at Silver Bluff High School, said his cadets have to raise about $15,000 every year to pay for travel and other expenses to participate in competitions and other programs.
“The candy we sell is very popular at school,” Freeman said. “It's frustrating that our means of raising money is being taken away. We'll either have to cut back and find new ways to raise money, or the students will have to pay a portion of that.”
Earlier this month, Wafford and Dr. Randy Stowe, the District's director of administration, hosted a meeting with vendors. Most area vendors expressed a willingness to adapt to the federal guidelines, while one or two had doubts about being able to do so. Gene Hart of Domino's and Jonathan Cooper of Papa John's said their corporations have worked hard on developing products that will meet the new standards and are still tasty.
Hart plans to test a pizza that meets the new standards at South Aken High School for Rob Lovejoy's DECA marketing program and its financial support for the School Improvement Council.
These pizzas “will be specifically for schools, as we can't afford to carry them full-time,” Hart said. “But we have 10 schools here, and I want to help them.”
The pizza sales are scheduled one day a week, and Lovejoy's DECA program also operates a daily school store, giving his students experience in operating a business. Like the Silver Bluff NJROTC program, the funds are needed to offset fees and travel for conferences and contests – including a state competition this weekend.
The Smart Snacks are intended to ensure all foods available to schools are healthy and nutritious, Wafford said. “It has been a challenge to get through all theses changes. We have to comply with USDA mandates, and we're constantly looking for new snack products.”
Foods must meet nutrient requirements for calories, sodium, fat and sugar. Beverage regulations cover plain water, low- and fat-free milk, and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.
Smart Snacks standards for foods sold in schools
• Be a “whole grain-rich” grain product.
• Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product or a protein food.
• Be a combination food that contains at least one-fourth cup of fruit and/or vegetable.
• Contain 10 percent of the daily value of one of the nutrients of public health concerns in federal dietary guidelines.