By Danielle Tomlinson
Like many fourth graders, Ben Laube loves to smother his fries and chicken nuggets in ketchup at lunch. His father, Tim Laube, says Ben “would probably put ketchup on his ice cream if it was socially acceptable.”
In the Eastport-South Manor school district, Laube is the Superintendent of Business, where he recently enforced a restriction on student ketchup consumption at school.
According to a letter sent out to parents within the district on Nov. 13, students are restricted to no more than two packets of ketchup with their lunch. The rule has caused a media frenzy fueled by misconceptions and mixed reactions from the community.
Eastport Elementary is one of six schools in the district that will abide by the new ketchup rule.
However, the children attending, including Ben, are allowed to bring in greater quantities of condiments to eat with their lunch at school.
Nutrition control in school cafeterias nationwide is required under federal guidelines and has been enforced in New York State since the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 came into legislation.
Parents in the Eastport-South Manor School District have reacted to the new restriction in Facebook posts under the hashtag “Manorville,” which encompasses the schools, blaming stinginess on the school’s part.
Parents in the school district took to Facebook to express their concerns. Some parents even said that the
“I believe they are having budget issues,” wrote one parent. Another commented calling the district “cheap.”
Scott Langley, a resident of Hicksville, commented on Facebook, “If you calculate number of kids and days they use ketchup, it adds up.” Some parents agreed with Langley in his comment, which received six likes, stating, “When the district is trying to streamline spending, every dollar counts.”
A member of the Eastport-South Manor Board of Education, Marion Diener, said the community upset surrounding this story will be laid to rest “when people will realize it wasn’t anything about money, it was about what’s good for kids,” Diener, said.
The USDA and New York State regulations warn against providing non-portion controlled bulk condiments to students as it can lead to excessive consumption by students.
There are about 3,200 mouths to feed in the district. Every meal that is served in a New York State cafeteria has limitations that districts must obey, or risk losing school funding.
The ketchup restriction arose when Whitsons Culinary Group came in for the 2018 school year. The commercial food vendor addressed the district for not following nutritional regulations in their cafeterias. The condiments for students are calculated for calorie, sugar and salt intake limitations.
“Our school district last year was not regulating the dispersal of that,” Laube said.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is a law authorized by Michelle Obama from her healthy food initiative as First Lady. While in the White House, Obama said the legislation works to improve access to nutritious food and create healthier schools nationwide.
The plan for Eastport-South Manor was to move in the direction of obeying the guidelines set in the act.
Whitson’s restructured the lunch plans for students and changed the student condiment options by removing dispensers and introducing packets in the cafeteria.
The district’s former commercial food service provider, Aramark, supplied the school with pump stations and the kids would have an unlimited supply of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. This ultimately violated the Health-Hunger Free Kids Act, placing the school at risk for losing federal aid.
The New York State Department of Education addresses this rule statically. “There are both sodium and calorie limits in the meal pattern that limit the quantities of condiments provided,” a spokesperson from the Department of Education, Jeanne Beattie, said.
In following code for proper nutrition, the district is teaching students yet another lesson in proper nutrition in order to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) has a program dedicated to teaching people how to better think about food, called “Go, Slow, and Whoa.” In the restricted category, referred to as “Slow,” ketchup is listed as a condiment which should consumed in moderation for people of all ages.
However, the choice in making a healthy decision at a young age can be difficult without a proper understanding of nutrition.“I do not think demonizing condiments or any food is the answer, though,” Amanda Reichardt, registered dietician and nutritionist from Long Island Fitness and Wellness, said.
“A visual that many may remember is that three tablespoons of ketchup is about the same amount of carbohydrates as a piece of bread,” Reichardt said. She hopes “that students are educated on why this is going into effect and possibly shown the amount of sugar or salt that may be in certain condiments.”
While parents may resolve to their own beliefs, “it is important to note that this is not a Board of Education policy, but rather a guideline from the state/federal government that our food service provider is adhering to,” Cheryl Hack, vice president of the Eastport-South Manor Board of Education, said.
Even Jimmy Kimmel touched upon the news from Eastport-South Manor during a recent monologue on his late night show. Laube said, “He kind of made light of some of the parents who were getting upset.” Kimmel brought the issue to light by saying that “there’s so many other things to be upset about than ketchup.”
“I’m not trying to tell people how to feed their kids,” Laube said. “Ketchup is a vegetable in my house.”