There will be fewer cupcakes and a greater variety of healthful foods served at Portland schools next fall thanks to new food rules adopted by the Board of Education on Tuesday.
Under the new rules, which go into effect in September, all food served at the schools or by school-affiliated organizations must meet nutrition standards set by the U.S. Department of Agricuture’s Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge.
The policies also affect food served at after-school functions, concession stands at on-campus sports events, PTO fundraisers, staff meetings and on field trips.
“It’s not just what’s served or sold during the school day,” said Chanda Turner, health coordinator for the Portland schools.
The rules don’t apply to food brought into the schools for personal consumption by students or staff.
The change comes as school districts across the country grapple with ballooning childhood obesity rates.
First lady Michelle Obama has campaigned for healthier food choices in schools through her Let’s Move and Chefs Move to Schools programs. By adopting the policies, the Portland schools become eligible for a $90,000 federal anti-obesity grant.
“This doesn’t necessarily eliminate cupcakes, but it is trying to make healthier options like apples also available,” said school board member Jaimey Caron, who chairs the policy and legislative affairs committee.
He said the biggest change is a ban on soda.
Under the new rules, all packaged food and half of all non-packaged food served before or after the school day also must meet the nutrition standards.
Turner said cupcakes and candy can no longer be served at classroom parties. Bake sales can still be held, she said, but for every item that doesn’t meet the nutrition standards there must be another item offered that does. For instance, a tray of brownies could be balanced by a bowl of carrot sticks.
“I don’t think it will be a huge hardship for Longfellow,” said Kelly Dufour, a parent who is co-president of the Longfellow Elementary School PTO. “We have a lot of parents who strongly advocate not having the sugary treats.”
Dufour said the PTO does hold a bake sale at the school’s spring fair.
“I guess I would have to see exactly how strict the rule will be to see if it will affect the PTO,” Dufour said.
The policies will apply to some concessions sold at Fitzpatrick Stadium, where Portland High football and other sports teams play, but not at the nearby Portland Expo, where high school basketball games are played. When a booster group or other school-affiliated group is running the concession stand at Fitzpatrick Stadium the new policies will apply. The city runs the concession stand at the Expo and does not have to follow school rules.
Turner said the concession stand at Fitzpatrick Stadium won’t have to stop selling pizza, but it will have to add items that meet the guidelines, such as baked potato chips or pretzels.
Other Greater Portland schools are taking similar steps.
In Falmouth, parents are no longer allowed to bring cupcakes and other sweets into the classroom.
“During the school day we try to limit what comes into the schools,” said Dan O’Shea, finance and operations director for the Falmouth schools. “After hours we don’t have any set controls, although we’ve talked about that in the past.”
He said the PTO used to do an annual lollipop fundraiser but has eliminated it in favor of other fundraising events.
It’s a similar story in Yarmouth.
“The teachers got rid of food as a reward, and that has been hugely successful,” said Becki Schreiber, who directs the Yarmouth school nutrition program. “They’re going to non-food birthday celebrations this year.”
Schreiber said the focus on nutrition in schools has come about as parents became more educated in the past 10 years about the links between food and health.
“I commend Portland,” Schreiber said. “I hope it’s successful because it will help the rest of us to keep pushing that pendulum in a healthy direction.”
Staff Writer Jessica Hall contributed to this report.
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