"Flavored milk might be an easy target, but what matters isn't one 'evil' product or another; it's the balance of reducing empty calories while increasing nutrition," says the Times.

In fact, the USDA's proposed new meal guidelines would make it more difficult for schools to substitute juice for whole fruit in school meals. But could juice be the next sugary food item to appear in advocates' cross-hairs?


Jamie Oliver might have scored a big victory in Los Angeles, but ratings have nose-dived and now there's speculation that much of the progress he's made improving school food back in the United Kingdom might be undone by sharply rising food costs.

The price of a school lunch has jumped 10 per cent this year, an Independent on Sunday investigation has found, sparking fears that the financial crisis and rampant food inflation could jeopardise the "Jamie Oliver effect."

The newspaper's survey of more than 80 local education authorities found after years of minimising rises in the cost of school meals, scores of town halls have been forced to impose increases of up to 16 per cent. The cost of a school lunch is now almost $3.25 with many parents having to pay an extra $1.60 a week to ensure their child gets a nutritious meal.

Rising prices push poorer students out of the lunch program. The British government has urged schools to work together to buy more products in large volume.


Elsewhere, hard times continue to force schools to take extreme measures when families fail to pay their lunch bills.

In North Carolina, Lexington County schools want to hire a collection agency to "ding" the credit reports of parents who fall in arrears with their cafeteria tab.

In the past, if parents didn't pay for their child's lunch, the county covered the cost at the end of the year. But with the county struggling financially, the $54,000 parents currently owe looms large. That money save a teacher's job or keep critical supplies in the classroom, school officials say.

"We're calling a collection agency because we have to have some type of accountability," said nutrition director Brittany Benge. "At the end of the day, we all need accountability," .


More and more schools are starting to look beyond the lunch line and vending machines to the junk kids eat in regular classroom celebrations. It seems there's always a birthday or some other reason to throw a pizza party or bring sugary treats to school. But some districts think there need to be limits.

Schools in Mansfield, Mass., recently approved a no-food policy for classroom celebrations because of a rising number of children with food allergies and other illnesses, ending a longstanding tradition of parents and others sending in birthday cupcakes and other treats.

The new rule limits any food-related celebrations to two a year and urges school officials and parents to work out other, more creative ways to mark special occasions.

“Socially, and as a culture, we seem not to be able to get together without eating and drinking,’’ said Janice King, president of the state’s School Nutrition Association. “Is the world going to cave in if we don’t have a cupcake? A treat for some children is to have a slice of watermelon.’’

Others call such moves more evidence of a "nanny state" trying to control what kids eat at school. The Texas legislature, for instance, in 2005 passed a “Safe Cupcake Amendment"after parents lobbied to have the exception added to that state’s wellness policy so that they would not lose their right to bring any kind of cupcake to their child’s classroom.

But a new Massachusetts school nutrition bill kicks in July 1. It bans high-calorie, high-salt foods and sugary drinks in school cafeterias and vending machines and gives districts a year to comply.

Here's are some suggestions [PDF] for healthier classroom celebrations from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.


School officials in California have been wringing their hands over food trucks pulling up outside local high schools, luring kids away from the lunch line with junk line and forcing some principals to call police.

But researchers in Maine find that locating fast food outlets near schools does not make kids fatter--because bad food is everywhere.

Some people joke that the state vegetable in Maine is a donut. A survey of some 550 students in grades nine through 12 at 11 schools revealed that most teens in the state are indeed consumers of fast-food staples such as burgers, fries, pizza and soft drinks. But it also indicated that the pull toward unhealthful food among teens appears to be a function of generally bad dietary habits and poor nutritional knowledge, rather than the location of fast-food outlets.

"Our hypothesis was that the so-called 'built environment' -- what a person's environment around them might be -- would have an influence on the [teens'] diet and obesity rate," explained study co-author Janet Whatley Blum, an associate professor in the department of exercise, health and sports science at the University of Southern Maine. "But in terms of their school environment, we did not find that," she said.

"We think the reason for that is that the availability of unhealthy foods is basically ubiquitous," Blum noted. "So while the students said they do go and buy it around their schools, they also said that they also get that same food from home and from local stores near their home. So whether or not fast-food places are near to their schools really doesn't change the overall situation."

So, is this supposed to be good news?


Finally, it's no secret where kids get all those messages to eat junk food. The food industry markets to children in every possible way, a practice that's decried by governments around the globe.

But it may also be a problem of mixed messages--meaning corporate food interests talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Case in point: the Nestle company's website, which advises kids to "be healthy," but then tells parents they can get their children to drink more milk by tarting it up with chocolate or strawberry syrup, or even dropping some food dye and marshmallows into the glass.

It's hard to make this stuff up. Here's the entire list of Nestle's suggestions:

1. Add NESTLÉ® NESQUIK® chocolate or strawberry syrup or powder.
2. Drop some food coloring or marshmallows into the drinking glass.
3. Let me make my own instant pudding.
4. Serve milk ice-cold with a fresh batch of NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® cookies.
5. Put a star on the calendar for every glass I drink.
6. See who can make the best milk mustache.
7. Buy some crazy straws.
8. Make me a bowl of STOUFFER’S® Macaroni & Cheese for an afternoon snack.
9. Let me pick out my own special milk glass the next time we go to the store.
10. Let’s make NESTLÉ® NESQUIK® Chocolate Igloos!