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Kansas education board to consider new limits on school food fundraisers

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 12, 2014, at 10:07 p.m.

Next year, Kansas schools could hold a limited number of food fundraisers during the school day that do not meet federal nutrition standards, according to a plan the Kansas Board of Education will consider Tuesday.

The proposal would allow each organization within a school to hold one fundraiser per semester that features foods or beverages that do not meet the nutrition guidelines – things like doughnuts, candy bars, chips, cupcakes or sodas. Each fundraiser could not exceed two days.

“That was the last piece of the puzzle – how often they could occur – that we have been waiting to see,” said Darren Muci, director of operations for the Wichita school district.

The state policy is in response to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which established new nutrition standards for all foods sold in school, not just lunches and breakfasts. The standards provide a special exemption for “occasional fundraisers” that do not meet the new standards and leave it up to states to decide how frequently those should be.

If approved by the state board, the new fundraiser restrictions would be a “big adjustment” for Wichita high schools, Muci said, because until now, schools have been able to hold unlimited food fundraisers.

“Some schools have sold food extensively. Others have not,” Muci said. “But none have had to organize sales, calculate nutritional information, log the information and keep it for tracking and reporting requirements.

“Schools will have to make huge adjustments to their organizational processes,” he said. “The new regulation adds a layer – a thick layer – of operational requirements that have never before been required.”

Last year the Obama administration released its long-awaited nutritional guidelines for snack foods sold in schools, an effort to combat the expanding waistlines of school-age children. The guidelines limit the amount of fat and salt in foods, encourage schools to offer low-fat and whole-grain foods or fruits and vegetables and limit the availability of sugary drinks.

They leave room for parents to send treats to school for activities such as birthdays and holiday parties and allow schools to sell sweets at after-school events.

The change being considered Tuesday primarily would affect lunchtime fundraisers. At many Wichita high schools, groups sell pizza or other foods during lunch – sometimes once a week or more – to raise money for athletics, student clubs, Project Graduation and other activities.

District officials have been meeting with school principals to review the new guidelines.

“We really tried to get the principals to focus on if you sell something that meets the guidelines, there are no limitations,” Muci said.

For example, secondary school cafeterias last fall began serving Pizza Hut and Domino’s pizza with whole-grain crusts that meets the federal nutritional guidelines. If clubs want to sell that type of pizza during lunchtime fundraisers, there would be no limit on frequency, Muci said.

“Basically, if the food they want to sell meets the guidelines, they can sell all they want,” he said. “Knock yourself out.”

If schools or groups aren’t sure whether a food meets the guidelines, they can use online nutrition calculators at the Kansas Department of Education’s nutrition website, www.kn-eat.org, to check calorie, fat and sugar content of products and compare them to the nutrition guidelines.

“We believe that we have our schools ready to go in terms of understanding what the guidelines are and how they would have to be responsible for reviewing and assessing any of the items they would wish to sell,” Muci said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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