Pop Tarts are exiting the Houston ISD breakfast program. As Hair Balls detailed a month ago, union leader Orell Fitzsimmons attacked the district's use of Pop Tarts and other surgary, processed foods in its breakfast program at a board meeting -- and apparently made some headway.
This morning, food service contractor Aramark representatives announced the Pop Tarts are being replaced by a Quaker Oatmeal to Go bar that has 150 calories, 25 of them fat.
Since, as Superintendent Terry Grier proudly proclaimed, "by the end of the year HISD will serve more children breakfast than any other district in the nation," it is assumed that stock in Pop Tarts might take a hit.
What was supposed to be a 5-10 minute presentation from Aramark representatives who would bring the trustees up to date on the latest developments in the breakfast program stretched to 45 minutes as trustees munched on the oatmeal bars, bananas, sausages, waffles, scrambled eggs and other breakfast foods, while questioning Aramark closely on what it's serving the kids.
They're back in the kitchen working on recipes and are considering offering a yogurt/granola parfait if they can get the ingredients right and the costs in line. And trustee Larry Marshall suggested, with general agreement, that teachers could start using the breakfast time to teach the merits of eating healthy food and how to understand the ingredients listings on the packages.
Still, with all the progress, there were still troubling points:
-- On the days that pork sausage is served, there's no other option and kids who aren't supposed to eat that have to content themselves with their milk and juice. While Aramark officials said the ingredients are clearly marked, it might be kind of tough for a hungry student to forgo the main course because of his dietary restrictions.
-- Bananas are the only fruit Aramark serves and it does so once a week. The other four days, it's fruit juice. Urged by trustees Anna Eastman and Harvin Moore to expand the playing field, Aramark nutritionist Kelly Swanzy explained that some fruits, such as oranges with their tough skins and whole apples, are too tough for younger kids to handle.
Moore asked about the already sliced apples he sees in stores in four-ounce bags and was told they are cost prohibitive right now -- 50 cents each and the district only has a budget for 73 cents per breakfast.
-- HISD isn't violating any U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines on the amount of sugar or sodium to give kids because guess what -- there aren't any. Moore said instead of waiting for the federal government to set standards, why don't Aramark and HISD work together to develop some, and watch out for all the sugar.
-- Trustee Manuel Rodriguez was the one to pounce on somewhat conflicting statements to lead the group to a determination that "made from scratch" is a relative phrase and should not necessarily be confused with starting with an unadulterated cup of flour. Swanzy talked about the district developing the right mix of wheat and vitamin-fortified white flour and agreed that in HISD's baking center "We do incorporate mixes as well."
-- According to the government, a school breakfast has to provide one-quarter of the caloric requirements for a student each day. Aramark achieves this by averaging kindergartners together with sixth graders, Swanzy says, to come up with a 498-calorie meal for students. Obviously troubled by the size differential there, Moore asked if there wasn't some way to cut back on the "required" calories.
Meanwhile, acting on the invitation of trustees for anyone in the room to try some of the breakfast food, Fitzsimmons made several trips to the food table, gathering up everything he could -- no doubt for further testing.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.