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Local schools sound off on snack regulations

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Schools nationwide have a year to cut chocolate bars and packaged cookies from their vending machines and a la carte menus because of new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.

Some schools in Jefferson County, however, already have been restricting many of these items for years.

“I think it’s going to affect us, but in a very small way given that the kindergarten through sixth buildings have no vending machines,” said Craig P. Orvis, food service director for the Watertown City School District.

The USDA is giving districts until the 2014-15 school year to comply with the snack regulations, which are an extension of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that led to tight school lunch regulations last September.

Mr. Orvis said snacks sold 30 minutes after school ends, such as nachos served at football games or cupcakes sold during a school play intermission, are not restricted. Fundraisers during the school day may be affected, however.

“The big thing is what USDA determines as the school day, which is after midnight to 30 minutes after class,” he said.

However, the ice cream and homemade cookies sold a la carte at Watertown High School will have to be analyzed to make sure they meet calorie and sugar restrictions. Additionally, the student government vending machine packed with junk food may have to be turned off until after school ends to meet the new guidelines.

Mr. Orvis said communicating with the high school clubs will be key to making sure the district is compliant with the guidelines.

As at Watertown, Carthage Central School Food Service Director Christine L. Thoma said vending machines can be found only at the middle school and high school. Full-fat potato chips have been replaced with the baked version, and flavored water has replaced non-diet soda. There still are cookies and crackers available to students for now, but the amount in the packages has been reduced over the years.

“I don’t disagree with the intent of the restrictions,” Mrs. Thoma said.

However, she said she thinks some of the changes will result in a further loss of revenue, after the substantial lunch restrictions that took effect in September left schools scrambling for whole wheat hamburger buns and less-caloric chicken patties.

“My concern would be the revenue from the a la carte sales,” she said. “We depend on those additional revenues.”

She said the loss could be big when combined with the newest changes in the school breakfast restrictions, which count an item by how many servings it is. For example, a 3-ounce bagel would be three items.

She agrees that the USDA’s giving schools a year will help them — and their suppliers — catch up to the regulations.

“I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” Mrs. Thoma said. “This past school year was the most challenging I’ve experienced. I love my job. We do what we have to do.”

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