Ted Simons: School is back in session and so is the demand for nutritional meals that keep kids healthy and ready to learn. Joining us to talk about what's being done to make sure school meals provide kids with the nutrition they need is Mary Szafranski, the Arizona Department of Education's Associate Superintendent in charge of health and nutrition services. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizon."
Mary Szafranski: Thank you for inviting me.
Ted Simons: What kind of guidelines are there for Arizona school lunch programs?
Mary Szafranski: Well, the school lunch program, the school breakfast programs have to provide certain requirements as far as nutritional requirements of each child. For breakfast, they would require at least one quarter of the dietary requirements and school lunch, they require one third of the dietary requirements.
Ted Simons: Are these guideline, are these rules, are these laws?
Mary Szafranski: No, these are regulations. For the one-third of the dietary requirements, we look to see are they providing the vitamin A, the vitamin C, iron, protein. The calories can't be more than 30% from fat. As the Department of Education, we go out there and help the schools stay in compliance and provide technical assistance and training.
Ted Simons: Schools mostly stay in compliance?
Mary Szafranski: They do, they do. We have a philosophy of continuous improvement and so we're always looking at ways to provide schools the tools they need to successfully administer the program.
Ted Simons: How much control, input, what have you, do local districts have on the lunches they serve?
Mary Szafranski: Well, they can decide what the menu is going to look like, as long as they meet the dietary requirements. So they can choose the meats and proteins and fruits and vegetables, they can vary it that way, but they still have to make sure within a week period, that they comply with those general requirements.
Ted Simons: What are the challenges of complying with the requirements?
Mary Szafranski: Well, we want to make sure that the students are eating what they're putting on the menu. So you want to make sure the food that they're offering is something that the children will like.
Ted Simons: That's a big factor, isn't it?
Mary Szafranski: It is a very big factor, because if the child doesn't eat it, they're not getting the nutrition and we want them to have that nutrition because when they're well fed and healthy, they make better learners and have more of an ability to get the concept of the lessons that they're learning throughout the day.
Ted Simons: The availability of these foods I would think would be somewhat of a challenge as well.
Mary Szafranski: Well, in some of the outlying areas we do have challenges with the fresh produce, but my team is working very closely with some of the local vendors to distribute the fruits and vegetables to the schools. We have a commercial distributer that delivers all of the USDA commodities to all of the schools in Arizona. We have a lot of partnerships that we build to help those schools and break down those barriers a little bit.
Ted Simons: What about the impact of parental concerns. If my kid comes home and I find out he's eating A, B, and C, and I'm not crazy about B and C, especially- how much of a factor is that in setting up these menus and lunch programs?
Mary Szafranski: The schools really try to take the advice and listen to the parents. Like I said, we still have the requirements of the USDA, you know, but our goal is to improve and have a positive impact on the overall health of the child. So the parents have a lot of avenues they can go through to maybe change something that's on the menu. Parents have a lot of voice when it comes to the school board. The school board has a lot of voice when it comes to deciding what happens at the district and the school board are the people who are elected by those parents, so that's really one avenue that the parents have a lot of ability to maybe make an impact.
Ted Simons: The school lunch programs in Arizona, nutrition guidelines and these things, how has this evolved here in recent years. What's changed and how has it changed?
Mary Szafranski: In 2006, the Arizona -- we had a law that was passed, the Arizona Nutrition Standards. That was a little more rigorous than the USDA guidelines, because the USDA guidelines only apply to the meals, the breakfast and the lunch, but the Arizona Revised Statue of the Nutrition Standard applies to all of the food that’s served and sold from bell to bell, so that would be the school store, the vending machines and Arizona has guidelines that are a little stricter and in December, the president signed into law the Child Nutrition Reauthorization which is called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kid Act of 2010 and those guidelines are going to be -- the proposal is even more strict than what USDA is implementing now. Probably close to what the Arizona Nutrition Standards already have. So we're ahead of the game.
Ted Simons: That's encouraging to hear.
Mary Szafranski: It is.
Ted Simons: You mentioned we're ahead of the game because of legislation. This kind of issue, does it get much attention from lawmakers in general?
Mary Szafranski: You know, it depends on what -- what it is that is happening out in the field.
Ted Simons: Yeah, so basically not necessarily?
Mary Szafranski: Not usually.
Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah, and that would seem like that would be a problem. And I would imagine it would be a problem especially when the state is facing so many issues.
Mary Szafranski: It was a problem when we were moving the legislation through. Because you know, we had to have a lot of people that really championed that legislation to get the junk food out of the schools. Because unfortunately, what we heard -- you know, we were dealing with the vending and the associations that really have a lot of money that are lobbying for us to keep the junk food in and so we have the position that it's not about the money, it's about the health of the child.
Ted Simons: And that's still the case, the junk food is still not on campus, is that correct?
Mary Szafranski: It is not for grades K-8. We never did get the high schools, but however we created a nutrition standard that the high schools can voluntarily adopt. And we have about 100 high schools that even though they're not mandated are still adopting the more rigorous nutrition standards.
Ted Simons: So are you optimistic that Arizona schools are on the right track here? It sounds like the guidelines are stricter than the feds even with the reauthorization in December, we must be doing something right here?
Mary Szafranski: Absolutely, I do believe we're ahead of the game and the food service directors were very influential and very involved in the whole legislative process. As I said, our whole goal is to have a positive impact on the overall school health and nutrition environment and this is just one of many components that contribute to that.
Ted Simons: Alright, very good thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Mary Szafranski: Thank you very much.