Georgia special ed kids' food cart is latest casualty of federal calorie counts

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Federal regulations have upset the coffee cart at a Georgia high school.

Government limits on the calories in food sold to public school students have stifled both special education and culinary programs at Marietta High School, according to the Marietta Daily Journal. Students at the school learned baking and business skills by manning a cart that sold coffee and muffins to teachers and students every morning last year, but the business recently got the boot due to rules imposed by Washington.

Muffins exceeded the 200-calorie limit placed on snacks sold on school grounds under the 2010 federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which also limits sodium, sugar and calories in each food served at lunchtime. The cart was operated and stocked by the 16 special needs students, but since August, the coffee cart has been locked in a closet collecting dust.

“Our students need those opportunities to interact with others because they are very shy and they don’t have a lot of opportunities to speak,” Christy Hunt, a special education teacher at the school told the Daily Journal. “It was really about our teacher curriculum and teaching our kids real-life skills in a real-life setting. It’s part of what we need to teach them, and that part of it in the school system has been taken away by the Healthy Kids Act.”

Hunt added what most at the school feel about the program—that the coffee cart was also essential to teaching the students vital job skills.

One parent shared her sentiment with the newspaper.

“One thing I know she really enjoys about it is getting her out and about within the school, just getting them integrated with the rest of the school and just interacting with other typical kids,” Anna Thielemann said her of daughter, Louisa, who is 17 and has developmental delays and autism. “Even though it might seem like a little thing to people, it’s just huge and they’re able to incorporate so much within that process … just a lot of different types of life and job skills. It’s just really a shame to see this program fall or not be able to be done because she was so proud of it, too.”

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act imposes two major changes that only took effect this school year. Whole-wheat flour must replace white flour as the main ingredient in all wheat products and food is also being produced differently to lower sodium levels.

The schools are focusing on keeping total calorie counts in the range of 750 and 850 calories for each lunch served to students in ninth through 12th grade.

While the healthy eating initiative has been pushed by the Obama administration, some snacks sold in the White House blow right past the 200-calorie limit, some have noted. A correspondent for CQ Roll Call tweeted out a picture of a vending machine at the White House that contained a 570-calorie honey bun.

It was not immediately clear if there were any healthier snack options in the vending machine.

Click here for more from the Marietta Daily Journal.