School Snack Crackdown Proposed By The USDA
February 2, 2013

USDA Proposes Stricter Nutritional Requirements For School Snacks

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed new nutritional requirements that would limit the types of snack foods and beverages that can be sold in school vending machines.

The agency´s new Smart Snacks in School proposal, which was announced on Friday, would prohibit the sale of any food product over 200 calories in vending machines while also requiring snacks to meet a series of other stringent nutritional requirements, according to reports.

The guidelines govern foods that are not served as part of a school´s regular lunch service, known by the USDA as “competitive foods,” but will not apply to foods sold during after-school fundraisers, concession stands at athletic events or other extra-curricular activities, or birthday/holiday parties or other school celebrations, explained Nanci Hellmich of USA Today. Likewise, they will not apply to students who opt to bring their own lunches from home.

According to Hellmich, under the regulation all competitive foods must be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product, protein-rich food, whole grain product, a combination food containing at least one-quarter of a cup of fruit or vegetables, or contain at least 10-percent of a specific nutrient, such as calcium or fiber. They must meet USDA requirements for sugar, fat, and saturated fat, and in most cases, they must not contain any trans fat.

“There are special exemptions being made for entrees and side dishes sold in the a la carte lines that are also part of the school meal. For instance, a food such as a hamburger might be able to be sold in the a la carte line on the same day it's served on the lunch line or for up to four days following,” Hellmich said.

“In practical terms, these proposals mean that schools won't be able to sell high-fat chips but might sell baked chips or granola bars. They won't be offering large high-calorie pastries or cookies or regular sodas,” she added. “When it comes to beverages, all schools may sell water; unflavored low-fat milk; flavored or unflavored fat-free milk and soy alternatives; 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Portion sizes of milk and juice vary by the age of students.”

The proposed regulations, which have a 60-day comment period, are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, an initiative designed to help combat the growing childhood obesity epidemic through stricter nutritional standards in US schools, according to Bloomberg News reporter Stephanie Armour.

"Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."

“For decades, the school lunch loophole has given our kids access to junk food through school vending machines, snack bars, and school stores, undermining not only their health, but also taxpayers´ investment in nutritionally-balanced school meals,” added Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, according to Armour. “USDA´s proposed nutrition standards are a critical step in closing that loophole.”