Me (and The Spork Report!) in the Houston Chronicle!

Just wanted to share this really nice feature story from yesterday’s Houston Chronicle about me and my two blogs, this one and The Lunch Tray. Thanks to reporter Claudia Feldman for giving me the opportunity!

By the way, the school lunch in the Chron photo was the actual lunch served that day in HISD elementary schools: turkey and cheese on a whole grain bun, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peaches and milk. The other option that day was chicken nuggets, but we’re clearly making real progress . . . .

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[While I serve on HISD’s Food Services Parent Advisory Committee and the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), all views expressed here (and on The Lunch Tray) are entirely my own.]

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Back to School With The Spork Report!

I want to apologize to Spork Report readers for my long absence from this blog over the summer months. I’m back now and looking forward to using this space to talk about HISD school food and related issues in the year ahead.

Because the school year has just started, I don’t yet have information to report from the HISD School Food Parent Advisory Council meetings that I regularly attend. But I can report that on the national level the new school food regulations have now gone into effect around the country. HISD was already ahead of the curve on most of the required changes, but even in our district parents should be noticing an increase in whole grains, fruits and vegetables on their children’s lunch trays, along with a new requirement that students must take a fruit or vegetable as a component of their meal.  (The current HISD menus are here.)

I also want to mention an announcement yesterday by Mayor Annise Parker’s office regarding the formation of a new city-wide, anti-obesity initiative called “Healthy Houston.” According to the press release, the initiative has these goals:

  • Encouraging urban agriculture in community, school, backyard and rooftop gardens and, where feasible, on City property;
  • Improving access to healthy, affordable and locally produced food for all neighborhoods;
  • Supporting education regarding the physical and mental health risks of obesity and the benefits of sustainable agriculture, using locally produced food, consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, infant breastfeeding, providing healthy meals in our schools, physical activity and exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight; and
  • Enabling programs that increase physical activity and exercise in schools, at work, and in communities, including those that provide safe playgrounds and parks, pedestrian-friendly walkways, bicycle paths and other recreational opportunities.

I was pleased to see that one of the task force’s 22 members is Brian Giles, Senior Administrator of HISD Food Services.  With many of HISD’s students eating both breakfast and lunch at school, improved school food and “a la carte” offerings can play an important role in combatting childhood obesity and improving the health of students — even those who are not overweight or obese.

Looking forward to a new school year ahead with you on The Spork Report!

Follow The Spork Report on Facebook, Twitter or on The Lunch Tray.

[While I serve on HISD’s Food Services Parent Advisory Committee and the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), all views expressed here (and on The Lunch Tray) are entirely my own.]

Yes, More on Those Cheetos (And the News May Not Be Good)

My first post on this blog contained a disturbing photo of one child’s meal in HISD: baked Flaming Hot Cheetos covered with nacho sauce, items the student purchased separately in his/her middle school cafeteria’s “a la carte” line and mixed together for his/her lunch:

hot fries and nacho cheese

I chose to lead off with this topic because I’ve long been concerned about the nutritional quality of the foods HISD offers to students for profit, in competition with the federally subsidized school meal, on the district’s a la carte lines.

Shortly after that post was published, an alarmed school board trustee contacted Brian Giles, Senior Administrator of Food Services, to express concern and obtain more information about the foods in the photograph.  In his response (to which I was later given access), Giles reassured the school board trustee:

The picture features “queso” sauce made at the Food Service Support Facility and some baked snacks.  These items, as well as all items approved for “a la carte” sale at schools, individually meet standards for Calories, Fat, Sugar, and Sodium as defined by the HealthierUS School Challenge.  These voluntary nutrition standards exceed current standards mandated by USDA for all school districts.

Based on this representation, I told Spork Report readers the same thing in my follow up report about a la carte, i.e., that all of HISD’s a la carte foods — including these two particular items (which I had made clear in my original post were purchased in a middle school) — comply with the HealthierUS Schools Challenge (“HUSSC”) standards.

Some time later, though, I remembered that there are gold, silver and bronze standards under the HUSSC and I wondered which standard our district is meeting.   But when I asked a representative of Food Services about this, now I was told:

Our elementary a la carte offerings meet the HealthierUS Schools Challenge Gold Standard.  For now, at the middle and high school level, we are working with schools on an individual basis who want to make changes.

This response directly contradicted what the school board member had been told by Giles and what I had subsequently told Spork Report readers – i.e., that HISD is meeting healthier a la carte standards across the board, regardless of grade level.

Taken aback by this development, I decided to do some investigating on my own.  I obtained from Frito-Lay’s website the nutritional information for the baked Flaming Hot Cheetos in the photo

and I then plugged that data into the HUSSC a la carte foods calculator.  To my surprise, the baked Cheetos were rejected by the calculator for containing an excessive amount of fat:

What’s particularly disturbing here is that these baked Cheetos (at least according to my own elementary-aged child) are also sold at the elementary school level.  So even where HISD is supposed to be meeting the HUSSC gold standard, the district is not in fact doing so, at least with respect to this particular product.

I raised all of the foregoing concerns with Brian Giles and he promised to have his nutrition team “re-analyze all our a la carte offerings as compared to HealthierUS School Challenge” and get back to me shortly.  I’ll share what I learn here.

Why is any of this important?   Because until we see what forthcoming national nutritional standards for a la carte foods look like, or until HISD SHAC-based efforts to improve a la carte standards in our district reach fruition, there clearly are children like the one in the photo who are making an entire meal out of these foods.  In a district which strives to offer “the highest level of nutrition possible on our campuses,” meeting the HUSSC standards for every a la carte item it sells — across the board and at every grade level — would be a big step in the right direction.

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