The government is booting junk foods out of vending machines in schools.
(Photo: Bob Bird, AP)
(USA TODAY) Good-bye doughnuts, candy bars, high-fat chips, full-calorie soft drinks and chocolate sandwich cookies. Those kinds of foods and beverages will no longer be allowed to be sold in school a la carte lines, vending machines and snack bars during the school day, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
Hello granola bars, peanuts, fruit cups, light popcorn, low-fat chips and no-calorie flavored water. Those types of foods will be offered.
The government is announcing Thursday its "Smart Snacks in Schools" nutrition standards for "competitive foods," the name given to foods that are not part of the regular school meals. The standards set limits for calories, fat, sugar and sodium.
These interim final rules do not apply to foods sold at after-school fundraisers, concession stands at sporting events and other after-school activities. They also don't affect the foods kids bring in their lunches or what's served at birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations at school.
Updated nutrition guidelines for school lunch went into effect this past school year.
"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
"It's great to be one step closer to getting junk food out of schools," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The nutritional quality of food served at schools has been a hot-button issue for years because a third of U.S. kids are overweight or obese. Extra pounds put kids at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems. The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update nutrition standards for all food served in schools.
Under the new nutrition standards, all competitive foods must:
-- Have no more than 200 calories for snacks and side dishes; and no more than 350 calories for entrees that are not part of the school-meal program.
-- Meet requirements for fat, saturated fat and sugar. They can contain no trans fat. Some exceptions on the fat limits will be allowed for foods such as reduced-fat cheese and nuts.
-- Be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food, a whole-grain-rich grain product or a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit or vegetable. For the first two years after the standards go into effect, foods can qualify as a competitive food if they contain at least 10% of a nutrient that's been designated as public health concern for children such as calcium, potassium, vitamin D or fiber.
There are special exemptions being made for entrees sold in the a la carte lines that are also part of the school meal. For instance, a food such as a hamburger or turkey taco might be able to be sold in the a la carte line on the same day it's served on the lunch line or the day after.
In practical terms, these standards mean that schools won't be able to sell high-fat chips and high-fat cookies but might sell low-fat chips chips or granola bars. They can also sell sugar-free gum.
When it comes to beverages, all schools may sell water or carbonated 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.
There are additional beverage options for high school students including lower or calorie-free beverages. But schools can't sell regular-calorie sports drinks.
"Eventually all school foods will have to contain real food -- fruit, vegetable or other healthy food component," Wootan says. "Companies won't be able to just fortify snacks with cheap nutrients and then sell them in schools as healthy."
Sandra Ford, president of the School Nutrition Association, a non-profit group representing school food-service professionals, says, "School cafeterias are still in the midst of making school lunch changes. Breakfast regulations go into effect this fall, and new sodium limits will phase in at the same time as the competitive food rule.
"We need time to evaluate the impact of these changes on school meal programs and to encourage students to accept these healthier choices."
She says the group asked that the regulations be an "interim final rule" so that the standards could be tweaked if necessary.
Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY