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Ketchup elimination causes parents to see red

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AC Schools temporarily got rid of ketchup because no low sodium option was available

By Shelley Spillman

Students went back to school on Aug. 13. Students attended classes, ate lunch, and went about the normal school activities, but something was noticeably missing: ketchup. Signs were posted around the cafeteria to explain the favorite condiment’s absence because of the unavailability of low sodium ketchup.

Parents heard there was no ketchup in the school lunches and flooded the Anderson County Schools’ office and The Anderson News with questions.

“They’re micromanaging our children,” said Paul Coffey, who has grandchildren at the Anderson County Schools. “A parent knows what’s good for their child and ketchup is not going to hurt them.”

Ronnie Fields, Anderson County Schools food service director, said this has more to do with the federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, which passed in Congress in 2010. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act puts stringent requirements on schools meals including allowable sodium content and overall calories of the meal. Fields said before the start of school all of the schools’ recipes into compliance tool that makes sure the meals meet the federal requirements. He said all of the recipes were configured with low sodium ketchup, which has been out of stock since the start of school.

Low sodium ketchup packets are 10 calories and contain 25 mg of sodium. Regular ketchup packets are 11 calories and 85 mg of sodium.

Under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, school lunches are only allowed to have 650 calories for elementary students, 700 calories for middle school students and 850 for high school students.

Coffey argued that the school lunches under the federal regulations are so bland, and condiments like ketchup are needed to make the food edible.

The federal requirements also mandate that snack items and side dishes sold a la carte. Here are a few of the requirements: 230 mg or less of sodium per item served, 35 percent or less calories from total fat, snacks 230 mg or less of sodium per item served, food items must have less than 10 percent calories from saturated fats, 35 percent or less of weight from total sugar and 50 percent of the breads and grains must be whole grains.

Currently, Anderson County Schools’ lunches for preschool and kindergarten students cost $1.95, $2.10 for first through fifth grade and $2.45 for sixth grade through high school.

“A lot people don’t realize how it’s this complicated to feed kids,” Fields said. “Our goal is to have eat.”

Fields also addressed rumors that the school district is trying keep students from bringing their lunch to increase school lunch participation.

“We’d never ban that,” he said. “Kids are always welcome to bring their own lunches and condiments.”

Alissa Vest, a senior at the high school, did just that. During the first weeks of school when there was no ketchup, Vest brought her own in. She said the condiment is a staple in her meals and she couldn’t do without it.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 20 Fields said regular ketchup was available to students.

Coffey said he is “ecstatic” that ketchup is back in the cafeteria.

“Ketchup is an American institution,” said Coffey.

Fields said it took a few tweaks to the lunch recipes in the compliance tool to make the allowance for the extra sodium content in regular ketchup, but all is well now.

“It’s a working progress,” he said. “We’re always trying to improve.”