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School District 65’s Wellness Council recently unveiled a draft of its food-safety policy, designed to prevent food-borne illnesses. As drafted, the policy has stringent guidelines for preparing fruit and vegetables to be served in classrooms.
At present, families of kindergartners and first-graders are asked to provide the daily snack for the class – each family providing the snack for the entire class on different pre-arranged days.
The guidelines in the draft policy essentially foreclose parents from bringing as snacks fruits or vegetables that have been cut up or prepared at home. The options to provide fresh fruit or vegetables as a snack involve time or financial commitments that may shut out some families: Bringing the fruit or vegetables to school, arranging to wash them in a three-basin sink and follow other guidelines; arranging with the District’s Nutrition Services to prepare the fruit or vegetables and delivering them there ahead of time, perhaps a day before; or paying $50 per year to have Nutrition Services prepare and provide the snack.
The time and money involved in getting fruit or vegetable snacks to a class may prevent many families from honoring their commitment to their children’s classes.
Alternatives to fresh fruit and vegetables are commercially prepared snacks. Few, if any, of them can provide the nutrition of fresh fruit or vegetables.
Many parents at the May 1 meeting where the draft policy was presented objected to the stringent rules of preparation, saying they essentially foreclose the serving of fruits and vegetables in the classroom and fly in the face of the efforts made toward promoting healthy eating habits and choices for school children.
A compromise must lurk somewhere in this murk.
We understand the short-term goal of preventing food-borne illnesses – from minor inconveniences like stomachaches to more severe outbreaks. At the same time, we are cognizant of the long-term goal of promoting healthy eating choices to prevent the onset of life-long health problems. We see both of these as public health issues.
We understand that home-prepared snacks have the elements of love and pride because they are direct evidence of doing one’s part to help the children and the school.
We understand that few if any home kitchens would be compliant with all health-department regulations, but we do believe that most are safe for the families they serve.
We also understand that commercially prepared snacks pose other risks besides lack of nutritional value: Many children have severe food allergies and should not consume foods processed in certain facilities where those allergens – nuts, eggs, milk and wheat, as examples – are processed.
In some cases, warning/advisory labels on the package are insufficient, because FDA standards do not always consider the severely allergic person. “Gluten-free,” for example, according to FDA standards, still allows enough gluten to harm someone with celiac disease. And some children with nut allergies can suffer even when a jar of peanuts is opened, without ever tasting the peanuts.
We do not have anything definitive to offer, and we suspect there are several routes to an acceptable resolution. We trust that the parents and professionals at District 65 will explore these routes.