On June 28, the Stamford Board of Education decided in a 5-to-1 vote, with two abstentions, that the district would not participate in the Healthy Food Certification program in the state of Connecticut.
The program asks participating schools will follow Connecticut’s Nutrition Standards for all food sold outside of the school breakfast and lunch programs. While an increasing number of districts around the state are signing on, SPS is holding off because many relatively profitable fundraising efforts for clubs include bake sales, which would not comply with the program.
“It would have the right to control many items, including cupcakes and cookies,” Winifred Hamilton, acting superintendent said. “It may seem anti-21st century to some health conscious folks, but many of these fundraisers are quite profitable and even memorable for the students.”
To date, only 35 districts out of 169 in the state do not participate with the program, leaving Stamford in the minority.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that we wouldn’t try to be cognizant of the fact that we need to know what we’re putting into the mouths of students,” board member Jackie Heftman said. “To me, it’s sending the wrong message that we will focus on what we serve in the cafeteria but not for fundraising efforts.”
Board member Julia Wade sided with Heftman and said she would like to see the district sign on to the program in the future.
Former Superintendent Joshua Starr, in his last meeting with the Board of Education, said that although SPS isn’t joining the statewide program it does not mean the district does not support healthy food initiatives for its students and can set its own standards.
Over the last few years, SPS has in fact begun advocating for healthier food in its schools, according to Trish Shoemaker, registered dietitian with for Stamford and Wilton schools with Chartwells, the district’s food service provider. Chartwells has focused on limiting fats, sugars, and sodium levels and moderating portion sizes. For instance, only wheat bread and brown rice are served — not white.
The district partners with farms in the tri-state area to give students locally grown fruits and vegetables, which are provided daily. There are other substitutions, Shoemaker said, such as serving romaine and spinach instead of iceberg lettuce, sweet potato fries versus ordinary fries, low-fat cheeses and milk, and baking foods instead of frying.
“We do a lot of cooking from scratch so we can control the amount of sodium unlike with pre-made foods,” said Shoemaker. “We rarely offer desserts, don’t put out salt shakers for students to add additional salt to their foods, offer cereals low in sugar in the morning and have oil and vinegar as an alternative to salad dressings.”
One unique feature in the Stamford cafeterias is a chef that travels to different schools one each month to put on demonstrations for the students. For instance, before the end of the last school year the SPS chef demonstrated how to make ratatouille to the students. While educating them on nutrition and asking students to try different vegetables, Shoemaker says the smell of the fresh food cooking throughout the school is what really intrigues the students.
To get a district as large as Stamford to sign on to the Healthy Food Certification program may be difficult, said Shoemaker.
“You have to get everybody on board or it’s not going to work,” Shoemaker said. “It’s going to take a while for a large district to educate people as to what the program is about.”
There’s also an alternative to the bake sales, she added. The state of Connecticut’s Web site offers a list of different ideas, including selling flowers or cookbooks, to raise money instead of junk food.
“Selling unhealthy things can contradict the messages taught in the classroom,” Shoemaker said.
Getting kids healthy has been a national effort, which has recently been highlighted by First Lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity. In conjunction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked every school to ramp up its efforts to provide healthy food in the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge.
Shoemaker has submitted SPS’ application nominating all 12 elementary schools for the bronze award and will hear the results, hopefully, by the start of the school year.
Patch.com/ Stamford, CT: July 2011