If you’re like most adults, you likely remember school lunches.
Maybe it was an encounter with ‘mystery meat.’ Or, perhaps, a serving of nachos and cheese.
I remember in school, during the ’90s, the lunch line would have Snickers ice cream bars.
Those days are gone, much to the dismay of many kids.
Foods served in today’s schools must comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “Smart Snacks” standards.
Those changes were adopted in the 2014-2015 school year. The standards include:
- A grain product with 50% or more whole grains by weight, with whole grain listed as the first ingredient
- Foods that have a fruit, vegetable, dairy food or protein food, listed as the first ingredient
- Combination foods with at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable
- Total 200 calories or less for a snack; 350 calories or less for an entrée
- Have 200 mg or less of sodium for a snack; 480 mg or less for an entree
- Contain 35% of calories or less for total fat, in snacks and entrees; nuts are exempt from this rule
- Contain 10% or less of saturated fat for snacks and entrees
- Have 0 grams of trans fat for snacks and entrees
- Contain total sugars for snacks and entrees of 35% or less, by weight
- Milk must be unflavored or flavored fat-free milk; flavored low-fat milk; unflavored low-fat milk, and milk alternatives
- Juice must be 100% fruit or vegetable juice
Outside of school hours, however, the rules are different.
The Pasco School Wellness Policy suggests 50% of concession food follow the Smart Snacks standards, but that is not mandatory.
Concession sold at many events is similar to what is found at a county fair or festival. Those foods tend to be high in calories and low in nutritional value.
So, foods sold at school concession stands — and concession stands, in general — often run counter to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
There’s one initiative that soon will be arriving at select Pasco County parks.
This initiative, called Fun Bites, will create healthier options at sporting events.
The Pasco Department of Health is working to bring this to Pasco parks, following a similar initiative pursued by the Pinellas Department of Health a few years ago.
It isn’t about removing current choices from concession menus; rather, it’s about adding healthier options to give consumers more options.
The initiative also aims to ensure that the healthier options are not more expensive.
The standards for Fun Bites products are based on the USDA Smart Snacks guidelines, listed above.
It was quite well-received in Pinellas.
In fact, at one aquatic center in Largo, after implementing the healthier concessions food options, revenues rose 40%. A Little League park in Clearwater reported a 20% boost in revenue, after adding some of the “Fun Bites” approved foods.
Before the Fun Bites program was implemented, surveys were conducted in six Pinellas locations.
A total of 119 people responded to a question asking them how much they value healthy eating. Of those, 88 reported they value it highly.
Survey respondents reported the three main barriers to eating healthy at concession stands are: a lack of selections, cost of the items and dissatisfaction with the options.
The Fun Bites project addressed these issues and made nutritious food more accessible at parks and recreation events.
So, if you like the idea of having healthier options available, keep an eye out because some Pasco parks soon will be offering good nutritional choices to their concession menus.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Published October 05, 2022