While it sounds great on paper, a set of new federal nutrition standards set to take effect on July 1 is giving local school officials heartburn.
Petaluma School District officials say the new standards, known as the “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” are laudable but ironically will increase costs on Petaluma's already severely strapped budget and possibly make it harder to get local, healthy food to kids.
The act, advocated by First Lady Michelle Obama and designed to push schools to establish local farm to school networks, create school gardens and encourage more local foods will force children to receive a set amount of nutrition from school meals every day.
According to Petaluma Schools Budget Director Midge Hoffman, “This simply forces kids to take foods they won't eat and drives up our food costs. The government is reimbursing us an extra six cents for every meal under these new rules, but the (increased) costs to us for a basic meal are $0.27 cents. We are potentially looking at a $120,000 annual hit as a result of these new rules.”
Hoffman said she and Petaluma Schools Food Services Director Ray Digiaimo are frustrated by the regulations, as the Petaluma district has been “working for years” to develop a healthy menu of its own for the schools.
“This new policy will preclude us from using our salad bar, and any food contracts we entered into before these new regulations take effect are now prohibited,” said Hoffman.
Petaluma parent Miguel Villarreal, food services director of the Novato School District, agrees with Hoffman, noting, “These new rules will force us to purchase more food and will cost us more. I agree that we could potentially see a tremendous waste of food.
“Instead of providing a wide variety of healthy food choices for the children and educating them about food, we are simply telling them what they will eat,” said Villarreal. “You can't force kids to eat something they won't, so that means we'll see a lot of good food being left on their trays.”