Untitled 1 Healthy School Food Maryland



Within MCPS schools, many a la carte and vending items sold are high in sugar, including added sugars (note: the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Example Sugary School Meal recommend that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar). HSFM produced a chart summarizing added sugars in MCPS foods. HSFM advocates that complete school meals, including snacks, stay within or below these recommended guidelines.

Chemical Additives

Processed foods with harmful chemical additives have been a chief concern of MCPS parents since our founding. Thanks to our advocacy, as of July 2018, MCPS announced that all synthetic food dyes have been removed from food sold in MCPS cafeterias. Vending machines are not yet compliant but MCPS is working on this. This is a concern, because food dyes and combinations of food dyes have been shown to cause hyperactivity and lack of focus in some portion of children.

MCPS has also started to clean up poultry products, announcing in the spring of 2018 that they will serve only poultry products that contain no artificial ingredients and have the USDA Process Verified Claim of Chicken Raised with No Antibiotics Ever. Turkey franks will also be uncured without nitrates or nitrites. Their focus going forward will be on sourcing all meat and poultry products with cleaner labels.

Since 2018, MCPS has also started to introduce more scratch-cooked meals and components, including turkey chorizo, Korean street tacos and chicken coconut curry.

Since 2014, HSFM has been advocating for the removal of any chemicals are listed as "caution" or "avoid" by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. HSFM has produced a chart of foods served in MCPS (note: many items may be out of date) with these chemicals and has asked MCPS to eliminate the following chemicals from its foods:

  • artificial flavors (plus vanillin)
  • artificial colors (only remaining one that is not forbidden is caramel color, some types of which are not dangerous),
  • artificial sweeteners [including (aspartame, acesulfame potassium & saccharin - all currently forbidden), cyclamates and sucralose],
  • BHA (forbidden),
  • BHT,
  • Propyl gallate (forbidden),
  • TBHQ (forbidden),
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (forbidden), and other glutamate-containing additives, including autolyzed yeast, Torula yeast, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein,
  • partially hydrogenated oils/artificial trans fats (which since June 2018 are prohibited in all food nationwide),
  • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),
  • potassium bromate (forbidden),
  • azodicarbonamide,
  • sodium benzoate,
  • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO),
  • sodium nitrite/nitrate,
  • Mycoprotein (Quorn), and
  • sulfites/SO2.

MCPS' official procurement policies (developed in 2014 and updated in 2018) now prohibit many of these, including artificial colors (except caramel), Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, BHA, Potassium Bromate, Propyl Gallate, Saccharin, STPP and TBHQ. Aspartame and Acesulfame Potassium are also prohibited in the MCPS Wellness Regulation.

Additional Resources

Clean Labels: Public Relations or Public Health?
Seeing Red: Time for Action on Food Dyes

"High sugar breakfasts leave kids bloated but not full and put them on a cognitive and emotional rollercoaster with spiking and crashing blood sugar levels, leaving them hungry an hour later. This choice for cheaper food has a real cost that undermines the progress and achievements of school administrations, teachers, students and their parents and taxpayers investing in the outcomes of our education system. There are low-sugar, whole-grain, protein-and -fiber-rich options for breakfasts that would provide kids a more steady, stable source of energy throughout their school mornings, serving the goals and interests of all!"
- an MCPS Parent, Stedwick ES

"If the school lunches were healthier, I would probably allow my children to have the choice of buying them. Unfortunately, I find the offerings unhealthy -- processed, too much sugar, and full of unhealthy ingredients that I don't want my children to be exposed to. Good eating habits start at a young age and our children deserve better meals than what is currently on offer at the schools. Offer them healthy food and you might be surprised."
- an MCPS Parent

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