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Food for thought: Area districts struggle to meet nutrition mandates and still offer lunches kids will eat

The coalition is working to ensure that school district's works to promote optional plant-based food entrees, healthy snacks, farm-to-school programs and nutrition education to encourage healthier choices.

"This group was formed because we saw there was a huge need to do something about the issue of school food and get involved in it," said Hamlin.

New dietary guidelines from the Federal Govt. in 2005 call for an average of nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day and at least half the grains eaten be whole grains. Getting rid of deep-fried foods, limiting high-sodium foods and foods with high saturated fats, and eliminating trans fatty acids in foods are just some of the coalition's recommendations.

School meals currently have to meet federal regulations consistent with federal dietary guidelines calling for more fiber and less saturated fat.

"Not all schools meet the regulations, and there's not a whole lot of teeth to the regulations," said Hamlin. Hamlin said in 2004, the federal government, through the child nutrition and WIC (women infant and children) re-authorization act, mandated that all schools create a local wellness policy.

The policy called for better nutrition, more exercise for students, and even offering healthier products in vending machines such as 100 percent real juice instead of sugary sodas.

"A lot of schools have very generous guidelines with no teeth, and other schools take the guidelines very seriously," said Hamlin.

The New York State Legislature in 2004 passed their own law mandating districts create a Child Nutrition Advisory Committee. The committee's made up of parents, faculty and school health staff are asked to meet quarterly to study all facets of current school nutritional policies with the overall goal to stop childhood obesity. One key component of the state Legislation is to promote health and proper nutrition through vending machine sales, menus and educational curriculum.

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