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School health plan in works

Fewer sodas. More PE. No more school candy or doughnut fundraisers.

And the fried food in the cafeteria? Gone.

Those are among the recommendations mulled over Friday by a committee with a mission to reduce childhood obesity and improve the health of Hillsborough schoolchildren.

"The bottom line is sending a healthy message to kids in school," said Mary Kate Harrison, the school district's student nutrition manager who is leading the committee.

The 31 educators and parents have been meeting since September to come up with an all-encompassing wellness plan for students in all grades. Federal law requires school districts nationwide to embrace policies on nutrition and physical activity by July.

Some school districts, such as Pinellas County's, have already approved policies that limit soda sales and increase nutritional offerings. The Miami-Dade district went even further, axing carbonated beverages and mandating daily physical education in elementary and middle schools.

The committee is completing its list, and will give it to superintendent MaryEllen Elia, then the school board this spring, as early as April, for approval.

On Friday, committee members sat around tables facing a large handwritten sign: "What is the best for our students." That has been their guiding principle.

Their recommendations ranged from the small - encourage students to eat breakfast - to near revolutionary, eliminate candy bar fundraising drives.

Many details still need to be worked out, Harrison admitted. Committee members seemed doubtful they could tell PTAs and booster clubs to stop selling chocolates and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

"What do you do with PTAs who are selling snow cones and cotton candy at the end of the day?" Harrison said after the meeting. "Do you still let them, on school property?

"I didn't hear us saying they could not do that. We would encourage them not to do that."

Along with rethinking what kids eat, committee members also looked at ways to increase physical activity. They suggest more physical education in elementary schools - 30 minutes daily instead of twice a week. That would be a big step, taking time away from preparation for state tests.

Despite the press to have students move more and eat less-fattening food, the committee is not suggesting the school district end an exclusive $50-million, 12-year contract with Pepsi, which has vending machines in schools countywide. But committee members want to change what is sold in most vending machines, including Pepsi's.

Parent Jan Banker said she would like to see no more than 50 percent of the drinks sold in high school vending machines come from sodas. That would mean more juice and water be added.

And of that 50 percent, the committee said it would like to see half of those sales be of diet sodas.

Banker, a committee member with children in Wilson Middle School and Plant High School, said she has high hopes the recommendations will help thousands of kids.

Based on Friday's discussion, Harrison said she will put the committee's recommendations into a formal report and get a consensus from members before sending it to the superintendent.

School Board member Candy Olson said she is already impressed with the proposed nutrition and exercise changes for the schools, even as she recognized that some of them will be hard to achieve.

"A lot of it has tremendous potential," she said. "Just the conversation is raising awareness. It goes far beyond student nutrition. It's about the whole child."

Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

THE IDEAS

Ideas being considered by a Hillsborough school committee on student health:

Eliminate junk food from vending machines.

PE 30 minutes daily in the elementary schools.

Trim soda sales in high school vending machines.

No sodas in middle school vending machines.

End school fundraisers of sweets.

No deep-fried food in cafeterias.

Don't use candy to reward student performance.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains for lunch.

SCHOOL MENUS NOW

Hillsborough public school elementary lunch menus for next week

MONDAY: Chicken fillet sandwich, ham and cheese hoagie, cheese stick munch 'n' dip, whole kernel corn, steamed broccoli, pineapple tidbits. Low-fat milk available all week.

TUESDAY: Hot dog, chicken nachos, turkey chef combo, potato wedges, garden salad, refried beans.

WEDNESDAY: Chicken strips, spaghetti with meatballs, turkey and cheese wrap, Plant City strawberries, green peas, juice, garlic roll.

THURSDAY: Trout treasures, pork taco with lettuce and tomato, chicken fajita salad, tater tots, mixed vegetables, sliced peaches, corn bread.

FRIDAY: Pizza, yogurt munch 'n' dip, spinach and cheese chef salad, frozen fruit pop, garden salad, green beans, whole grain roll.

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