CPS Takes a Stand Against “Copycat” Breakfast Cereal

November 20, 2014

As part of the district’s ongoing effort to improve student health and school nutrition, CPS no longer offers “copycat” breakfast cereal in schools.

As part of the district’s ongoing effort to improve student health and school nutrition, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) no longer offers “copycat” breakfast cereal in schools. These are cereals that are of the same brand and packaging as those sold in stores, but are reformulated to comply with school nutrition standards set forth by the district, as well as by the USDA.

Overall, CPS's decision is a win for student health, as it means that Chicago students will receive consistent messaging about the types of foods — as it pertains to popular breakfast cereals —  that help fuel their learning and growth, and can foster healthy eating habits outside of school.

This falls in line with HSC’s ongoing work with CPS and a variety of stakeholder groups to help develop a comprehensive plan for achieving excellence in the district’s school meal program. One of the priority areas that has emerged from the school food advisory groups co-convened by HSC is to help CPS  successfully market healthy meal programs and meaningful learning environments to parents and students. You can read the group’s resulting report, Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition.

The move by CPS to no longer offer copycat breakfast cereal is an important one, as it’s in recognition of the critical role schools play in delivering consistent messages to kids about healthy nutrition.

Where did these copycat cereals come from (most of which are not available for purchase outside of schools)? In response to the new school nutrition standards, major food companies have tweaked some of the fat, sodium and whole grain content of their most popular cereals and snacks to meet those standards. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing.

However, copycat foods, while technically meeting school nutrition standards, fly in the face of the work that's being done to improve student health. These brands, in an effort to maintain their selling power to schools and to strengthen brand loyalty among kids, are sending confusing and potentially harmful messages to families — all with the implicit stamp of approval that comes from a school’s food program.

CPS’s decision to eliminate copycat cereal is the right one.

Leslie Fowler, director of nutrition support services at CPS, explained it this way:

“Our school meal program is about more than putting nutritious food on students’ plates. It’s also about helping students build lifelong healthy habits. To do that, we need to send consistent messages about wellness and healthy eating. How do we explain to students or parents that school foods are good but what is in the store is not? Parents should not be confused about how to support their children. There is no such thing as school food, there is only food.”

It's our hope that this decision is just the start of a broader approach to address the variety of other copycat foods sold within schools, here in Chicago and across the country. Parents deserve to know and it's important for kids to learn that the foods available in school are the types that will fuel their learning and lifelong health — and that the nutritional content of any one brand or item is the same as what they’re eating at home.