Starting July 1, Texas schools can start serving deep-fried food with a soda on the side.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced Thursday that he is lifting a public-school ban on the use of deep-fat fryers and the sale of sodas. He said his decision returns control to school districts, which were required more than a decade ago to get rid of such types of foods.
“Parents, superintendents, principals and locally elected school board members are best equipped to make decisions for their own communities, and I trust them to make the right choice for their schools,” Miller said in a news release. “We are working to put an end to a one-size-fits-all approach mandated from Austin.”
But don’t expect an immediate return to deep-fried foods in Central Texas school cafeterias.
School districts such as Pflugerville, Hays and Round Rock sold their deep-fat fryers years ago and replaced sodas in their vending machines with water.
Austin school district officials said they haven’t had deep-fat fryers in recent history and that the Thursday’s announcement won’t change that.
“AISD will continue to be a leader in child nutrition, health and wellness. We will not make any changes to our policy. We pride ourselves in offering the most healthy and nutritious foods to students and staff in AISD,” said Tracy Lunoff Spinner, the district’s assistant director of comprehensive health.
Miller teased the reprieve on sodas and fried food during a news conference in January when he reminded parents that the state no longer prohibited them from bringing cupcakes and other foods to school to celebrate a birthday or school event.
Following that event, Miller bit into a strawberry cupcake for emphasis and delivered cupcakes to lawmakers at the Capitol.
Bettina Siegel, a blogger and lawyer who serves on the Houston school district’s nutrition subcommittee, said she is afraid that Miller will likely turn a blind eye to districts that violate federal nutritional guidelines.
“We’ve got the man in our state who is charged with enforcing federal nutrition guidelines in schools clearly expressing a kind of disdain for basic nutrition protection for children,” she said.
To receive federal funding for free or reduced-cost meals to students, schools must meet certain nutritional guidelines. Those guidelines don’t specifically ban all sodas or deep-fat fryers but have limits on calories, sodium, fat and sugar, making it difficult for school districts that serve sodas and fried foods to stay under the limits.
Miller also announced Thursday that booster clubs, sports teams and other school groups can resume selling food and beverages that don’t meet federal nutrition standards during the school day. Such fundraisers can be held up to six times per year.
Miller said he has created a five-point plan to combat childhood obesity that will include getting more fresh produce directly from farmers, promoting community and student engagement and offering schools training on creating high-quality meals.
In 2007, a national survey showed that Texas ranked 32nd among states in childhood obesity with 32 percent of its children considered overweight or obese.