New state nutrition law bans bake sales during school hours

Buy cookies, breads, and more at Vineyard Committee on Hunger's annual bake sale. — Susan Safford

Bake sales, treats for classroom holiday and birthday celebrations, and candy bar fundraisers might soon be nothing but a sweet memory for students under a new school nutrition law that goes into effect on August 1.

The law includes a change in nutrition standards for competitive foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools during the day. That means that bake sales, traditionally one of the most popular fundraisers for school organizations, would be restricted to after school hours.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) worked with key partners such as the state’s Department of Education and Secondary Education, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Boston Public Health Commission to develop the nutrition standards and regulations in the new legislation, signed into law on July 30, 2010.

The new regulations apply to “competitive” foods and beverages sold or made available in public schools 30 minutes before the school day begins until 30 minutes after it ends. Competitive foods and beverages are defined as ones provided in concession stands, booster sales, fundraising activities, school-sponsored or school-related events, and in school buildings, stores, snack bars, and any other location on school property.

The regulations also apply to a la carte items sold in school cafeterias. Vending machine items must comply with the standards at all times.

DPH went one step further and encouraged school districts to go beyond the 30-minute minimum proposed by state representatives to apply the standards around the clock, every day. The controversy over school bake sales sparked a public outcry from many parents across the state involved in fundraising for school organizations and team sports.

In response, at the House session yesterday State Rep. Brad Hill (R-Ipswich) offered an amendment to the law, included under a budget rider, that would leave the decision regarding nutrition and bake sales and concession stands up to school districts.

“When we passed a nutritional bill, it was not our intent to go after these particular items,” Representative Hill said. “This does not affect the vending machines and school lunches. It affects after school programs, sport programs that we are taking out of the department’s discretion.”

The House approved the amendment unanimously. It still has to pass the Senate and be signed by Governor Deval Patrick.

Strict standards

The DPH created a comprehensive 52-page guide to help schools implement the Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages, available online at the DPH website at According to the guide’s introduction, the regulations are part of the state’s initiative to reduce childhood obesity and prevent its complications in childhood and later in adulthood.

Additional school nutrition food and beverage regulations include making water available to all students during the day without charge, offering fresh fruit and non-fried vegetables among food items sold, and prohibiting the use of Fryolators for competitive food by August 1, 2013.

The new nutrition standards for competitive foods and beverages are very specific. They require schools to phase out flavored milk by August 1, 2013, and to limit the serving size of 100 percent juices to four ounces. The standards also set a limit per food item of 200 calories, with no more than 35 percent of calories from total sugars, 35 percent of total calories from fat, and 200 milligrams of sodium.

No foods or beverages may contain an artificial sweetener. All bread and other grain-based products must be whole grain.

The standards do not apply to food and beverages sold as part of the Federal nutrition program, such as the School Breakfast Program and School Lunch Program, which are regulated by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

No birthday cupcakes?

In a phone call with The Times on Tuesday, superintendent James Weiss discussed how the new law would impact Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools.

“As a first step each school will reconvene its Wellness Committee and take a look at what the new law is and what its requirements are, and then begin to put those things into their wellness plan and redevelop a wellness policy,” Mr. Weiss said. “I believe that if we are strict constructionists, it’s going to have a huge impact on how we operate. But we’re not there yet.”

In terms of competitive foods and beverages available in Island school cafeterias, Mr. Weiss said, “I think we’re all safe. It’s the other things that are going to have the significant impact.”

While not mandatory in the new regulations, schools are encouraged to make classroom birthday and holiday celebrations food-free and to avoid rewarding academic performance or behavior with food or beverages.

“I am concerned that schools shouldn’t become the food police,” Mr. Weiss said. “Yes, we do have a role to play, but this is really a community issue and a parent issue. If Mrs. Jones sends in a dozen cupcakes for her son’s birthday, is it our job to say, oh no, you can’t bring those in?”

“According to the law it may well be,” he added. “But I’m not sure that’s the way we want to proceed. So we have to take a look at all of those kinds of things and figure out how we’re going to make this work.”

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal Steve Nixon agreed with Mr. Weiss that the new law would not affect the high school’s cafeteria operations very much. The school wellness committee has already taken steps to remove less nutritional items from vending machines and to offer healthier options in the cafeteria, he told The Times in a phone call Wednesday.

However, since the regulations restrict the sale of competitive food and beverages to 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school hours, Mr. Nixon said that would obviously affect what types of fundraisers people choose.

“I’m not well versed in the new law yet and don’t know yet what the recommendations will be from the wellness committee, but I assume we won’t have any fundraisers during school time that will involve selling candy or baked goods,” he said. “We’ll have to go to non-food items or healthier food items.”

Mr. Nixon said most of the high school’s fundraisers, though, do not involve the sale of food. The exception is the food shack at football games, which would not be affected by the new law because it operates after school hours.