Monday, November 24, 2014

Real Food for Montgomery County

From The Sentinel, Nov 6, 2014, by Karen DeVitt, Real Food for Kids-Montgomery.  For the whole story go here 

What do Montgomery County parents want for their children? Access to free water in the cafeteria; fewer highly-processed meal choices; more salad bars; healthier a la carte and vending machine options; more transparency and accountability; utilization of our county’s Agricultural Reserve for fresh, local produce; less sugar; and more respect for the latest research on the dangers of chemical food additives.
Now that the school year is in full swing, we’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Real Food for Kids – Montgomery (RFKM), a grassroots parent and student advocacy group promoting healthier school food in MCPS. On October 1, RFKM celebrated its 2nd anniversary. We have much to be proud of and much work ahead of us. 

Efforts to improve MCPS food go back decades. Children, parents and school board members all come and go, but the staff at Food and Nutrition Services (DFNS) remains the same, committed to doing more of the same, with only small incremental changes and more whole wheat. “Everything we serve is healthy and meets USDA guidelines” does not answer the ongoing frustration parents feel when faced with the reality in the school cafeterias. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 resulted in some positive changes such as more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and the passage of the Smart Snacks rules, in effect this past July, improved some of the vending and a la carte options. But overall, MCPS lags behind other school districts that have made better school food a priority. 

We were pleased last year when MCPS agreed to eliminate strawberry-flavored milk. We were equally pleased when MCPS recently announced the elimination of certain chemical additives from school food. (A closer reading of this announcement revealed that this change will not take place any time soon, but only in future bids for contracts. And the most prevalent of all food dyes, Red Dye #40, is not slated for elimination.)     

Last year we got DFNS to acknowledge on the elementary school menu that it sells snacks in the cafeteria at lunch time, and that parents can block their child’s account from purchasing these snacks. This year, the blurb on the menu doesn’t mention the bit about blocking your child’s account. The piece of paper that goes home with elementary school kids when their lunch account needs re-filling states that parents may block their child’s account from purchasing snacks. However, most parents are still completely in the dark about the existence or nature of these snacks; school lunch menus at all levels do not mention the a la carte items sold (chips, Doritos, pretzels, ice cream, cookies, gummy candies, etc.).

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