Rules aim for healthier school snacks
BY MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The government for the first time is proposing broad new standards to make school snacks healthier, a move that would ban the sale of almost all candy, high-calorie sports drinks and greasy foods on campus.
Under new rules the Department of Agriculture proposed Friday, school vending machines that once were full of Skittles and Sprite would instead be selling water, lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and baked chips. Lunch rooms that now sell fatty "a la carte" items like mozzarella sticks and nachos would have to transition to healthier pizzas, fruit cups and yogurt.
The rules, required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010, are an effort to combat childhood obesity. While many schools already have made improvements in their lunch menus and vending machine choices, others are still selling high-fat, high-calorie foods.
The USDA is proposing fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in school. Current standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches subsidized by the federal government, but most lunch rooms also have "a la carte" lines that sell other foods.
"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," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Most snacks sold in school would have to be less than 200 calories, and elementary and middle schools could sell only water, low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. High schools could sell some sports drinks, but the calories would be limited.
The standards will cover vending machines, the "a la carte" lunch lines and any other foods regularly sold around school. The proposed rules would not cover in-school fundraisers or bake sales, though states could decide to individually regulate those. The guidelines do not apply to after-school concessions at games or theater events, goodies brought from home for classroom celebrations, or anything students brings for their own personal consumption.
The new rules would be one of many recent changes to the school lunch program to make foods healthier. Nutritional guidelines for the subsidized lunches were revised last year and put in place last fall. The 2010 child nutrition law also provided more money for schools to serve free and reduced-cost lunches and required more meals to be served to hungry kids.
Last year's rules faced criticism from some conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the government shouldn't be telling kids what to eat.
The standards will cover vending machines, the "a la carte" lunch lines and any other foods regularly sold around school.