Say goodbye to school vending machines filled with cheese doodles, potato chips, cookies, and candy. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture launched its new “Smart Snacks in School” campaign. These nutrition standards represent the first nutritional overhaul of school snacks in over 30 years.
According to the new rules, school foods must contain at least 50% whole grains or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy, or protein as the first ingredient. However, foods containing one-quarter of a cup of fruit or vegetables are permitted as well.
Beverages are also being regulated. Sports drinks that have high amounts of sugar are prohibited, but a low-calorie version is permissible. Milk must be either low-fat or fat-free, juice must be 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and flavored water must not have any calories. Similarly, potable water must be available for free wherever meals are served.
Margo Wotton, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted, “Snacks now have to be nutritious. They can’t just be fortified junk.” “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. He explained, “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”
Kids will still be allowed to bring in any snacks from home that they choose and parents can continue to supply treats for birthday celebrations or holidays to the classroom. Likewise, special fund-raising events such as bake sales are also allowed. The regulations are a result of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires the USDA to improve food served in schools.
Several students were very upset and complained that their favorite foods were taken away and that the calorie restrictions were too low for growing teens. The transition deadline to meet the new standards is July 1, 2014, which means the new USDA regulations would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year.