Monday, November 19, 2012

Does Your PTA Promote Competitive Foods?

Did you know that snack foods, including beverages, available outside of the school meals program are referred to as “competitive foods.” This is because these unregulated items “compete” with the federal school meals program that meets nutritional standards and dietary guidelines.  

Students often consume up to 50% of their daily calories at school.*1  Nationally, 83% of elementary schools, 97% of middle/junior high schools, and 99% of high schools sell food and beverages outside of the school meals program through vending machines, school stores, or a la carte in the cafeteria.*2  In addition, on-campus or PTA sponsored fundraisers are a source of competitive foods. Nationally, forty percent of schools allow for the sale of foods such as chocolate bars and other candy for fundraising.*3  

National PTA encourages local unit PTAs to consider nutritional guidelines for beverages and
snack foods provided to students through PTA sponsored events and through PTA sponsored fundraisers.  Research has shown that students who eat a healthy diet perform better at school. PTAs can have a significant, positive impact on student learning by advocating for healthier food options during the school day and taking good nutrition into account when planning PTA events.

To celebrate November as PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month, Chesterfield County Council of PTAs/PTSAs Health & Safety Committee challenges you to implement the use of the "Acceptable Foods List" within your local unit.  The Acceptable Foods List and instructions on how to implement the guidelines was also shared at the November County Council General Membership Meeting.  PTA Presidents are encouraged to share this information with their Boards and implement the program this month.  These Guidelines can help ensure the following regarding the foods that students consume through PTA sponsored classroom celebrations:

  1. Snacks are more nutrient dense and that the portion sizes of treats and beverages are age-appropriate;
  2. That we are considering the important affects that unhealthy snacks play in the role of childhood obesity;
  3. Food sensitivities and severe food allergies are being taken into consideration;
  4. Food borne illnesses can be minimized or prevented by taking extra precautions.


"Winterpock Elementary School PTA participated in a pilot study by being the first school to implement the Acceptable Foods List within their Room Parent Program.  The PTA's Health & Safety Committee introduced the program to Principal, Gloria Cooper back in early 2012.  The School Administrator was thrilled to see the PTA so involved in supporting the healthy initiatives that Winterpock and other schools within the County were implementing.  Knowing that there would be changes in School Board Policies pertaining to foods being brought into schools during the upcoming school year and with new USDA guidelines for healthier school lunches being put in place, it just seemed a natural fit to ensure that the PTA was doing everything we could to support them.

Winterpock PTA Health & Safety Committee introduced the idea of the initiative to its Board and PTA Teacher Representatives at the June meeting.  There was an overwhelmingly positive response to put the program in place during the 2012-2013 school year.  We then worked over the summer to research which foods should be included in the list and what factors should be taken into consideration.  We didn't want to just address food allergies but rather wanted to ensure that we were doing due diligence to support all of our students.  The program was implemented the beginning of September 2012 which is when we shared the information and Acceptable Foods List with school staff, room parents, Board Members and the PTA General Membership.  

Overall the initiative has been very well received.  Surprisingly, there are a few parents who still want their child to receive a doughnut or other non-nutritional snacks during classroom celebrations, but the grand majority of our parents are pleased with the changes.  As we gear up for the Holidays, we are now prepared to ensure that we are providing more proportional, healthier snacks to our students.  There are still cookies and cupcakes on the list but they are mini portions.  We hope to provide a healthier snack like fresh veggies or fruit in tandem with the small treat instead of providing an abundance of sugary snacks for our classroom celebrations.  The students don't feel deprived and parents can rest assured that we have their child's best interests and wellness in mind. Now that the research is done, the list is complete and we have a proven study of how to successfully implement the initiative, it is time to get all of our other Chesterfield PTAs/PTSAs involved."  --Maria Cox, Winterpock PTA Health & Safety Chair  

*1  Neumark-Sztainer, D., French, S., Hanna, P., Story, M., & Fulkerson, J. (2005) School Lunch and Snacking Patterns among High School Students: Associations with School Food Environment and Policies. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. (2). Web site:>  
*2 Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2006) School Foods Report Card.
*3  U.S. General Accountability Office (2005)..School meals program: Competitive foods are widely available and generate substantial revenues for schools (U.S. GAO No. GAO-05-563).

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