The Texas Department of Agriculture has rolled out a new policy that dictates— down to the ounce and fat calories in many cases—what schools can feed students.
The new rules, unveiled March 3 by Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, regulate food and drink sold in vending machines, snack lines, and fund- raisers, as well as meals served in cafeterias and treats brought in by parents for classroom parties in elementary through high school.
“We believe this is the most far-reaching, broad-based, and comprehensive policy of this kind in the nation,” said Beverly Boyd, a spokeswoman for the state agriculture department.
The policy is the latest in a series of school nutrition initiatives proposed or implemented by Ms. Combs since last July, when the agriculture department became the state agency that administers federal child-nutrition programs.
Under her leadership, Texas became one of the first states to restrict vending machine sales of soda, fatty snacks, and candy in schools last summer. State policymakers have increasingly turned to such measures in response to national concerns about child obesity and poor nutrition. (“States Target School Vending Machines to Curb Child Obesity,” Oct. 1, 2003.)
But the department’s “Texas Public School Nutrition Policy,” as the latest regulation is called, has been criticized by some school representatives, who worry about the costs of implementing the extensive list of changes it demands in the way school food is bought, sold, prepared, and served.
“While we support [the commissioner’s] overall goal, we feel schools should have been able to provide more input on this policy,” said Kathy G. Golson, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards.
Fried foods, for example, will essentially become a thing of the past in Texas schools. By the start of the 2005-06 school year, the rules require elementary schools to eliminate deep-frying as a method of on-site preparation for foods served in school meals, a la carte, and in snack lines. Middle, junior high, and high schools are expected to follow suit by the 2009-10 school year at the latest.
That means replacing fryers with ovens and other appliances for warming food, Ms. Golson said.
The rules take effect Aug. 1 and apply to all Texas public schools that participate in the federal school meal programs.