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Healthier School Food Gets OK

Michelle McCabe, a Fairfield parent who last month urged  Board of Education members to support healthier lunches for students, returned Tuesday night to push the school district to meet the state's food certification standards. McCabe and others were successful, convincing the board to approve the standards for the first time in the four years the program has been available.

The proposal passed, 7-1-1. About 60 percent of Connecticut school districts participate in the program.The Connecticut food certification standards provides funding to school districts that sell only food that is on an approved list provided by the state. Also any food sold by other organizations such as clubs and the school stores must meet the guidelines.

"It's a start, I think change comes hard, but it's a good start," said Board of Education Chairwoman Sue Brand. "Sometimes you need a structure and then we will learn from that and eventually go out on our own, but this is a move in the right direction.

Members of the board, as well as Fairfield Warde High School student liaison Tom Wolff, say they are worried the program may have a negative effect on clubs who use bake sales as the main method to raise funds. But Joann Fitzpatrick, the town's manager of food and nutrition services, said there are plenty of options on the state's approved list that will be appealing at bake sales.

McCabe, the chairwoman of the Fuel for Learning Partnership, said her group is "more than happy" to help any group that needs to meet the standards.

Board member Catherine Albin, the only one to vote against joining the program, said that she didn't want the public to misunderstand her intentions. "I am 100 percent in support of healthy food, but this board in past years has voted this down," Albin said. She added that the superintendent and other administrators had  previously advised against joining the program. This year, school administrators advised the board to join the program.

Superintendent Ann Brown and Fitzpatrick said that there is still a risk that the town will lose money by switching to the program, but it won't be known until it is tried. Fitzpatrick admitted it will be cumbersome to have to ensure that all food sold in the school meets the standards.

The board also voted to allow for exceptions to the sale of food guidelines for events, such as football games and plays that take place outside of school hours, where foods not on the state approved list may be sold. In addition, food not on the list may be given to students for free.

In other food services related matters, the board voted to not increase lunch prices and also to not increase salaries for food service personnel.

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