- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

Rice cakes and cream cheese are quickly replacing cupcakes and ice cream at classroom parties in Arlington County and D.C. public schools — part of a push for healthier eating habits among students.

Since June, cakes, candy and other sugary substances are not allowed at classroom parties and students have been urged to bring in healthful snacks, Arlington officials said.

“We’re required by state guidelines to have a wellness program,” said Frank Bellavia, a spokesman for Arlington public schools. “We also wanted to be consistent with our promotion of healthier diets. Instead of sodas and sports drinks, we encourage water, fruit juice and milk.”

Fruits, vegetables and water are now considered the primary foods and beverage for school programs.

Vending machines also are stocked with more healthful foods and drinks, and stricter nutritional standards are in place for foods sold outside of school meals such as snack lines, fundraisers and school stores.

Such changes are becoming commonplace as the physical condition of the nation’s youth continues to decline.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 17 percent of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years old are overweight.

Earlier this year, the D.C. State Education Office, which facilitates the student-meal program, expanded the District’s student-meal program to include dinner for about 25,000 students who participate in after-school programs.

D.C. students now receive nutritiously balanced dinners such as turkey, vegetables and juices, in place of the snacks formerly provided — fruit, graham crackers, granola bars and milk.

Other local school systems have yet to implement rules like Arlington’s and the District’s, but promote healthful lifestyles and diets.

Kate Harrison, spokeswoman for Montgomery County public schools, said that there are no rules for snacks at parties, but officials advocate eliminating food altogether from such functions.

“We’d prefer other ways for students to celebrate those occasions — little presents like pencils, rulers or notebooks,” she said.

However, restrictions were put in place for nutritional quality of food and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, athletic department and fundraisers.

The situation is similar in Fairfax County, said schools spokesman Paul Regnier.

“We definitely are doing things such as providing healthier breakfasts and lunches,” he said. “I can imagine that one or two schools may enforce such a rule, but there’s no systemwide policy right now.”

Like Montgomery County, candy and soft drinks are not sold in Fairfax schools during the day. School food service programs operate under federal and state regulations, which bar the sale of foods of low nutritional value.

School meals in the county are planned by registered dietitians and prepared in accordance to federal regulations.

Items such as chicken nuggets and pizza contain limited amounts of fat and sodium. Additionally, whole wheat sandwich rolls, pizza crust, breakfast cereals, cinnamon rolls and pasta are now on school menus.

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