Food fundraisers have to be healthy — it's the law
Goodbye, gooey iced cupcakes with sprinkles. Hello, whole wheat, reduced-fat brownies.
Athletes, musicians and school club members gearing up for fundraisers this fall will face a healthy twist.
With a few exceptions permitted by the state, food fundraisers held during school hours on school property must be healthier, with more whole grains, fewer calories and less sugar.
The guidelines are part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the 2010 federal law championed by first lady Michelle Obama that overhauled school lunch and breakfast menus.
The new rules, which took effect in July, cover bake sales and other food fundraisers held during the school day as well as snacks sold in school vending machines, school stores and on-site cafes.
Sweet treats will still be allowed at a limited number of fundraisers per year that are granted exemptions allowed by the state.
Fundraisers conducted outside school hours, or foods sold to be consumed at home, such as frozen pizzas or buckets of cookie dough, are not impacted by the changes. Concession stands selling snacks at pre-season practices or after-school games and events are exempt.
“We just want to make sure our kids stay healthy and we give them opportunities to learn healthy behaviors,” said Deborah Dunstone, president of Pennsylvania PTA, a statewide parents' group. “What they learn in school needs to reinforce what they're learning at home.”
The state Department of Health found that nearly 33 percent of students in kindergarten through sixth grade and 34 percent in seventh through 12th grades were overweight or obese, according to health screenings conducted during the 2010-11 school year.
“We recognize the importance and necessity of groups to fundraise for activities for students,” Dunstone said. “When you introduce new things to kids, they are more acceptable to change than adults. They'll adapt to (healthier snacks). I don't think that's going to be an issue.”
States can set a number of exempt fundraisers per school year at which any kind of food or baked goods can be sold without complying with the nutritional rules.
Pennsylvania elementary and middle schools can hold up to five exempt fundraisers while high schools can hold up to 10, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education. Each fundraiser can last up to one week, he said.
“The department did a survey of schools to assess the number of fundraisers that were currently taking place that would not qualify under the new standards and determined a number of exemptions that would be a fair compromise to achieving the goal of providing an environment that is health-promoting without creating a significant fiscal impact,” Eller said.
Generally speaking, school officials said the number of exemptions is fair.
Richard Fantauzzi, director of finance and operations for Elizabeth Forward School District, said the district is incorporating the rules into its wellness policy and will require building principals to turn in an annual report on fundraisers to the district's business office.
He said food sold in vending machines and the high school's media center cafe already complied with the nutritional standards.
Rod Stewart, director of food and nutrition services for Norwin School District, said he passed out copies of the new guidelines to building principals.
“In the intermediate and elementary schools, I don't see any clubs or organizations selling food products as a fundraiser during the school day,” said Stewart. “I have seen and have been asked about certain groups at the high school. ... The principals will be the ones to decide which (groups) get the benefit of being the exemption.
He said it becomes more of an issue at the secondary level “because there are a lot more clubs and sports teams.”
Some school districts had already banned these types of fundraisers.
Roger Botti, director of transportation and operations for North Allegheny School District, said the district eliminated the fundraisers several years ago when it established a wellness committee.
And in Plum Borough School District, school-day bake sales and other food fundraisers have been barred since 2006, said Maryann Lazzaro, food service director and registered dietitian.
“It was detrimental to the school lunch program because you don't want kids buying cookies or M&Ms or the Sarris chocolate pretzels. ... You want your children spending their lunch money on a nutritional school lunch,” Lazzaro said.
The district doesn't have on-site cafes, nor do its school stores sell food.
“We have an administration that's pretty cognizant of not having food outside the cafeteria walls,” Lazzaro said.
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.