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Parents take issue with new snack options at JFK Middle School

  • Baked Cheetos, one of the new a la carte snack options available at JFK Middle School. Creative Commons/Mike Mozart



@ecutts_HG
Thursday, May 17, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — An expanded snack menu at John F. Kennedy Middle School, aimed in part at improving the food service’s bottom line, has some parents concerned that students can now buy junk food like ice cream bars, baked potato chips and shortcake.

The new a la carte options began late last month after students returned from school vacation and include options like Smartfood popcorn, an orange cream ice cream bar, baked Lay’s chips and baked Cheetos, as well chocolate and strawberry shortcake.

Other new items include Greek yogurt, mozzarella cheese sticks, oatmeal bars and trail mix bars, items added after some parents complained. Fresh and canned fruit is also available.

“The food service is putting themselves in conflict with parents who are trying to offer a healthy diet,” said Robert Schyon, the father of a seventh-grader at JFK. “The food service should be our ally in this, not our enemy. In the same way that any part of the curriculum in school is trying to steer kids toward academic excellence or good habits in studying. The food service can steer kids toward lifelong good habits in healthy eating.”

John Tranfaglia, food service director for Northampton Public Schools, said the added snacks may generate more sales but also give students more selections and experience in making decisions.

“We were really looking at being able to offer students a variety of choices and be able to prepare them when they go up to the high school,” he said.

With different a la carte options, Tranfaglia said, the school is working to stabilize the food service program to get to a point of financial stability, which in turn would allow money to be used for things such as more local food, higher quality items or home-style meals that would enhance the program.

The options meet state regulations on portion sizes and nutritional values. All were listed on the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition’s A-list, which provides a list of vending and snack products that meet the Massachusetts Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages in Public Schools and the USDA’s Smart Snacks nutritional standards.

Since instituting the change, Tranfaglia said, he has received some feedback from parents as well as a staff member.

Two parents the Gazette spoke with expressed concern over how the new menu additions were rolled out, saying it was presented to families as good news without further detail of what would actually be offered.

Hillary Gardner, the parent of a sixth-grader, said she was concerned the information sent to parents was misleading and did not include the facts of what was being distributed. Gardner also expressed disappointment that there wasn’t a public conversation about the changes.

“It really bothers me that these treats are being offered daily to kids and I think that my understanding of treats, they are meant to be kept to a minimum,” she said. “They are empty calories and they interfere with kids eating other items that aren’t empty calories.”

Gardner said she met with Tranfaglia to discuss her concerns and spoke at a recent School Committee meeting.

“Why are we making money on the backs of our kids’ health?” Gardner asked at the meeting.

Schyon said he learned there would be new offerings through a flier and an automated call but didn’t know what the options were until his son came home with the details.

“He came home and said ‘boy, things went crazy at the lunch room. Kids are lining up for ice cream and Doritos like crazy,’” Schyon recalled.

When the new options first became available, Tranfaglia said, the school saw a huge surge in sales per day — 400 total items including bottled water and seltzer — but sales have settled down to around 200 to 250 items a day, which is a mix of all a la carte offerings.

Parents and guardians are able to place restrictions on what their students may purchase by calling the food service department at 587-1487, Tranfaglia said. A list of all the a la carte options as well as the nutritional values can be found at www.northamptonschools.org/project/food-services.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.