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Snack restrictions bad for school cafeteria

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OGDENSBURG — The Ogdensburg City School District’s cafeteria could face lean times as new federal guidelines restrict the snack foods available for schools to sell.

Starting with the 2014-15 school year, schools no longer will be able to sell candy bars, high-fat chips, chocolate sandwich cookies and other snacks high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks in School” standards.

“We’re going to see a devastating impact on the cafeteria budget when the regulations are fully in effect,” said Brian R. Mitchell, Ogdensburg cafeteria director.

The Ogdensburg cafeteria has seen growth over the past several years.

While final numbers won’t be in until later this summer, the 2012-13 school year ended with the cafeteria in the black by nearly $35,000, Mr. Mitchell said.

“A lot of it is a la carte sales,” Mr. Mitchell said of the income that’s driving the cafeteria’s success.

Mr. Mitchell said that of the 44 percent of students who don’t have free or reduced-price lunches, about half buy snacks from the a la carte menu.

But the new federal regulations could strain the finances as healthier but potentially less attractive foods are required to fill up the snack options, Mr. Mitchell said.

He said portion sizes, as in the size of a bag of chips, will also be reduced under the new regulations.

What saves the cafeteria financially is the high number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, which means the government will be subsidizing roughly 56 percent of the meals served, Mr. Mitchell said.

“I think by the time that regulations roll out you’re going to see a lot of changes” concerning snack options, he said. “I can guarantee you they’re not going to sell as good, but if we can keep three-quarters of the revenue we’ll be OK.”

Because the regulations are not coming into effect for another full year, distributors are working on getting healthy, tasty snacks ready for sale, Mr. Mitchell said.

As an example, he pointed to whole-grain Pop Tarts that are becoming available.

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