AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cafeterias across the nation may be ditching healthy meals to broaden the food options for students.
It’s a decision which could have a direct impact on the livelihoods and health of the students they serve.
“It’s definitely a concern trying to get her to eat more healthy,” said Holly O’Kai, who has a 4th grader at St. Elmo Elementary in Austin.
“I think above all else, what we put into our bodies is the most important thing,” said Hayley Gooding, whose son is in kindergarten at St. Elmo.
“Because it’s not sweet, the kids say, ‘no mommy! I don’t like it,'” said Alma Hernandez, who has two kids that attend St. Elmo.
Many parents will agree, eating right is important, but hard to do.
“I don’t want to leave it up to her to pick or else she’ll just eat cheese pizza and chicken nuggets,” said O’Kai.
So when the USDA announced a rollback on some of the healthier food regulations to create items more appealing to kids, it has some parents worried.
“Putting junk into our bodies is not going to make for good kids or happy adults,” Gooding said.
Schools across the nation can now offer a wider variety of foods that may be less healthy, but taste better to picky eaters. It’s a move aiming to reduce the amount of food that goes to waste.
“We think the nutrition regulations have been a positive change for our students and we will continue to offer whole grains and vegetables every day,” said Anneliese Tanner, the executive director for food and nutrition services for the Austin Independent School District.
Tanner says the district won’t succumb to the new changes.
“It might take years to change a palate, but we know it’s the right thing for students,” Tanner said.
The American Heart Association is also chiming in, saying “when it comes to our children’s health, there should be no ‘flexibility.’”
“We want to offer our students what they want to eat but a healthy version of that so they can develop an identity through their food choices but also be healthy and make good choices for their future,” Tanner said.
How are Central Texas schools handling the changes?
We reached out to several school districts across Central Texas to find out if they will also be rolling back options for lunch. Along with the AISD, Bastrop, Round Rock, Leander and Hays CISD also will not be changing their food service options.
Each of these school districts described the “healthy options” they offer students. They say it will continue to regulate the health of their students and the foods they consume.
The Texas Department of Agriculture, led by Commissioner Sid Miller, oversees the state’s school lunch program.
His first official act when he took office in 2015 was to declare amnesty for cupcakes. It was Miller’s way of informing parents, students and school districts of changes he made to the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy enacted in 2004. That policy restricted foods sold or given away in schools based on “nutritional value”.
Miller’s changes included doubling the number of days schools can have bake sale fundraisers from 3 to 6. He also lifted a ban that prevented schools from using deep-fat fryers and selling soda in vending machines.