Of Doughnuts and Slushies

It was just a year ago that Seguin ISD was being hailed as a leader in providing nutritious food options for our students. In September of 2015, to great fanfare, SISD partnered with HEB and Dole to install and stock salad bars at every elementary campus in the district. Our kids were to have access to fresh fruits and vegetable each and every day, improving their health and teaching healthy nutrition habits for a lifetime. In my own blog post at the time, I lauded the district for making a substantial commitment to the nutrition of students. When the salad bars were introduced, a news article quoted

Seguin ISD and its food service vendor, Chartwells, have pledged to continually stock the salad bars with fresh produce options, ensuring that children get exposure to fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.”

Well, here we are a year later. How are things going?

After the initial launch, the salad bars were mothballed. Why? “Not enough staff”, “not enough money”, “unsanitary”. You get the picture. Like so many initiatives, there was much effort put into securing the salad bars, rolling them out, and publicizing their launch but very little time was spent planning and budgeting for keeping the initiative going over time.

Fast forward to this school year. SISD ended their relationship with Chartwells, which provided the student breakfast and lunches. The district is now providing foodservice themselves. The stated goal was to provide higher-quality food at a lower price. They have, however, hired a consultant, Walker Quality Services, to coordinate the program and make certain that the food meets federal and state nutritional standards.

What is the district providing? No salad bars. Those sit empty. The good news is that each student orders a lunch each morning from a menu. That’s good, because kids are more likely to eat when they have been a part of the decision-making process. And salad is an option-it comes prepackaged. That’s good too. Salads are a healthy option. The lunch meals themselves are generally well-reviewed. The food seems to be pretty good and there are a variety of choices. So far, so good.

It’s the food provided outside of the lunch-line where things become concerning. Several years ago, the district began offering free breakfast every day. That’s great, because a good breakfast helps kids do better in school and many students were arriving at school without having eaten. On the other hand, doughnuts have been appearing on the menu-not so good.

At lunch, extra items are being offered for sale that have questionable nutritional value. Let’s start with the slushies. There is a slushie machine on every elementary campus and at the early childhood center (preschool). Slushies. They come in green, red and blue. They are “juice-based”. What does that mean? Let’s look at the label. The first ingredients are fruit juice concentrate and water. Fruit juice concentrate sounds great, but it’s mostly sugar. An 8 oz. serving of slushie has 120 calories-all from sugar. A 12 oz. can of Coke? 140 calories. So this slushie, being served in schools, has more calories per ounce than Coke. And all of those calories are from sugar. And then there are the dyes. Some elementary campuses have limited the sale of the slushies because they are staining the tables and the food-service staff can’t get it off.

An alternative? Fruit smoothies are also offered. The first three ingredients here are water, fruit juice concentrate, and maltodextrin. What is maltodextrin? It’s sugar. Again, all the calories come from sugar. A 4-ounce serving? 100 calories, so almost twice as many calories per ounce as the slushie.

Chips are also for sale, such as Doritos and potato chips. What’s next? Hot Cheetos will be arriving at the middle and high schools soon, I am told. The items sold are the “reduced fat” variety but still contain the sugar, sodium, artificial colors, and artificial flavors of the regular products. Certainly these cannot be considered healthy food choices. So why are they being offered to our children?

Well, these are extra items, by and large, not available through the student lunch program. The exception is the smoothies which do appear on lunch trays in place of real fruit juice. Students have to pay for extra items out of pocket. And they are. One of our elementary campuses sold $400 worth of slushies (at $1 apiece) in just the FIRST WEEK of school. Clearly, someone is profiting from the sale of these items. Who? That’s not clear, but it’s hard to see how our students are benefiting.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens