Food for Thought at School Comm

By Ann Needle

Nashoba students and parents can expect stricter rules next year around what they can eat during school hours and beyond.

The district’s Health and Wellness Advisory Council outlined the major changes to its Health and Wellness Protocol effective with the new school year starting in August. Health & Wellness Coordinator Pat Trahman pointed to the “30-minute rule” as perhaps the biggest change. This state mandate means food that does not meet Massachusetts nutrition standards cannot be sold on district grounds from 30 minutes before through 30 minutes after school hours. As an example, Nashoba Food Services Director Tom Houle explained that cake being sold as a fundraiser during lunch must consist of at least 51% whole grain. But if the fundraisers wait until at least a half hour after school closes, the cake ingredients can vary. The 30-minute rule includes carbonated beverages, he added.

Traham noted that the purpose of the rule simply is to help insure that a student “does not choose a brownie over a salad for lunch.”
Among other Health Protocol changes, coordinators of any in-school fundraisers that involve food must also submit a “Fundraising Food Request” form to the principal before the event. Teachers will now need to submit a “Use of Food to Support the Curriculum” form to the principal before using any food in the curriculum. Most other changes focus on more aggressively promoting good nutrition and physical activity, and in complying with the latest state and federal guidelines around school nutrition.

Food has been a hot-button topic for some Nashoba students and parents, starting with the district’s tightening of rules several years ago around the types of foods students could purchase at school, and sometimes bring from home. For instance, the tradition of having a child bring in sweets from home (such as cupcakes) for a class to help celebrate his or her birthday was banned.

While some have berated the rules, others have praised the added protection this gives to students with food allergies, especially when it comes to the ban on sharing of food. Trahman noted that one parent having three children in Nashoba schools, each with severe food allergies, meets annually with administration to stress just how important it is that this no-sharing rule is enforced.
Recently, these regulations have centered mostly on the type of food and portion sizes a school can sell in the cafeteria. In September, the cafeterias began following federal guidelines limiting food portions, and requiring fruits and vegetables be served with each meal, said Houle. Though sales initially dropped after the changes, customers seem to have adjusted,  with sales back to the same level as this time last year, he reported.

Survey Talk Postponed Again
While the results of a community-wide survey of Nashoba practices have been available for several weeks on the school’s website,the Committee again postponed discussion of the results and comments. Co-Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton asserted that the Committee needed more time to digest the material, as the comments added to the survey by respondents have been broken down and categorized since the last Committee meeting. The discussion initially was to take place at that May 26 meeting. She also maintained that it would not be fair to discuss the results since Superintendent Michael Wood was absent.

The survey questioned students, parents, staff, and other community members on Nashoba’s communication efforts in several areas, along with respondents’ feelings on a wide range of possible changes in the district. Looking at the comments given under communications, the overwhelming majority said the overall area “needs improvement.” As for past and potential district initiatives, most comments revolved around school choice.

The survey analysis is again scheduled to be discussed June 18, which is the last meeting of this school year.

Looking to next year, the Committee unanimously voted in the proposed School Committee meeting calendar. The first meeting will be Tuesday, August 27, at 6 p.m. (note the new time).

As Nashoba Regional High School Committee Rep. Louise Bennett of Stow said her goodbyes last night, she confirmed that Talia Kirschbaum, also of Stow, will take her place for at least the next school year.