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School food fails to meet state nutrition standards

Portion sizes of lunch at Ridgefield High School are costing the town money.

The schools will once again fail to meet the Connecticut Nutrition Standards for the 2013-2014 school year and, therefore, miss out on a potential $30,000 in aid.

Board of Education members unanimously voted to accept a “healthy food certification” statement Monday, June 24, that indicated the district won’t comply with state statutes.

“The basic issue is the portion size being offered,” said Janet Schmitz, the food service director.  “The state has certain calorie restrictions per meal, and the portion size at the high school does not meet the requirements” because they are too big.

“That’s why Ridgefield isn’t certified,” she said.

She added that the district did mirror the guidelines of the state, offering a wide variety of healthy food options for its students, but didn’t adhere to  calorie limitations.

Paul Hendrickson, the district’s business manager, said that the portion sizes the state’s legislation requires is not sufficient in feeding high school students, especially larger-sized athletes such as football players.

Mike Edgar, the district manager of Chartwells School Dining Services, the district’s lunch supplier, said every school in the district must meet the state guidelines in order for the district as a whole to receive certification.

Ridgefield High School is currently the only school in the district that doesn’t comply, said Ms. Schmitz.

The main problem is at the high school, where changes would have to be made to meet nutrition standards.

“Breakfasts would have to undergo a significant change,” Mr. Edgar said. “Right now, the breakfast menu consists largely of grab-and-go foods and egg sandwiches — those items would all have to go for the district to qualify.”

State statutes give the state Department of Education the power to develop and publish nutrition standards for food items offered for sale to students at schools.

These items are separate from reimbursable meals — one meat item, one grain-based side, one piece of fruit, vegetables and a half-pint of milk, that are sold as part of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Participating districts in the National School Lunch Program must certify annually with an application to the Department of Education.

Compliance is measured on whether all food items made available for sale to students will meet nutritional standards.

If a district is granted certification for the year, then it gets additional funding.

Mr. Hendrickson explained that the responsibility for getting the district certified fell on the Board of Education.

His memorandum said the same nutrition standards for food items offered for sale to students during school would apply to events taking place during non-school hours, such as PTO functions and some athletic events.

The restrictions “would severely limit the types of food and beverages that could be served during non-school hours and would result in higher food and beverage costs,” he added

Additionally, the district would have to have a policing system to ensure that only foods and beverages in compliance with the state standards were being served at all times, which would also result in additional costs.

The certification restrictions would apply to more than just the school cafeteria. The school store, vending machines and any fund-raising activities on school premises would be affected and would have to comply with the nutrition standards for the district to receive certification.

Ridgefield is not alone: Darien, Fairfield, Shelton, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton have stated they will not meet the state standards next year, Mr. Hendrickson said.

Mr. Edgar also shared some of his company’s products and discussed the foods in general.

Board members sampled a wide range of items, including fruit salads, tofu burgers, vegetable baskets, turkey panini, and orange and cucumber infused waters at the June 24 meeting.

“Everything you’re currently eating is on the existing menus,” he said.

Mr. Edgar explained that Chartwell currently uses local produce in about 37% to 40% of its products. The company also has 25% of its meals made from “scratch cooking.”

“It’s more expensive than just serving a product that’s finished and just needs to be cooked,” he said. “We would like to be there, but we’re not all there yet — the staff isn’t properly served, the equipment is not there and there’s a low participation in a lot of the new food items we release to the students.”

Mr. Edgar said one of the bigger difficulties the company faces is growing participation over time. He added that Ridgefield students have been a pleasure to work with so far.

“This is a healthy partnership because your district has great students to introduce new foods to,” he added. “It’s a positive, growing program.”

About author
Award-winning journalist for Hersam Acorn Newspapers. Covers beats such as education, police and fire, planning, real estate, and business in the town of Ridgefield. Also covers sports and hosts a radio show, Radio Arts and Leisure, that runs on the company's 18 individual news websites. University of Denver graduate, die-hard Bronco and Yankee fan. Sports lover and compulsive traveler.

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  • David

    This strikes me as wrong on two levels.

    1) Ridgefield taxpayers should forfeit $30,000 so some “athlete” kids can fill their bellies? Really?

    2) Experts have set nutritional standards and we are ignoring them? Really?

    The article mentions some other towns also don’t meet the standard. But what’s not mentioned is that 75% of the towns in CT do meet the standard, including many towns that beat us in football last season. Seems like their athletes did just fine with the smaller food portions.

    Not to be overly harsh, but this whole thing just strikes me as gluttonous. How about this, the “athletes” who want to eat more can bring a bag from home and eat all they want. But this in no way should be costing the taxpayers $30,000.

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