Good news coming from the USDA this week, as the government agency charged with our kids’ nutrition has published guidelines for healthier snacks. The Smart Snacks in Schools Standard defines what competitive foods will be allowed in schools starting in the 2014-2015 school year.
Reminder: The USDA has oversight of school food in 2 aspects:
- Free and reduced lunch programs – serving over 30 million kids daily, and adhering to strict nutrition guidelines (but not always quality)
- Competitive foods – those snacks sold in vending machines and kiosks, available to all children in school.
The competitive foods have been an area of contention for years, because they were a foothold for junk food and beverage companies into the younger demographics. Schools made some money on the side from the inclusion of sugary soft drinks and fatty potato chip snacks in school hallways.
Well now, the USDA is cracking down on those snacks:
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”
What will we be seeing? According to the Center for Science in Public Interest:
- Sugar drinks with more than 40 calories per 8 ounces will no longer be sold in school vending machines. (Full-calorie soda is also gone for good.)
- The new standards will better address obesity and dietary problems—with sensible limits on calories, saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugars.
- After a phase-in period, companies won’t be able to just fortify snacks with cheap nutrients to qualify them as healthy; all school foods will have to contain actual healthy food―some fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or another healthy food component.
The complete breakdown of the new standards from the USDA is available here. You can see that nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, packaged fruits and veggies will get more prominence. When it comes to beverages, 100% juices will be the big stars. One area of concern is the allowance for diet soft drinks in high schools (they are not allowed in elementary and middle schools).
What do you think? Will this be a new dawn for snacking? Or will junk food companies figure out a workaround?