USDA Delivers New School Nutrition Rules
New regulations will bar high-calorie candy and soda from school vending machines. Association reaction is mixed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new regulations last week that will require schools to offer healthier snacks.
Starting next summer, school vending machine snacks will have to meet calorie and nutrition standards that will effectively eliminate candy bars and soda as options, according to The Hill. The new rules promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and proteins.
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools. According to PBS News Hour, high schoolers will only be able to “purchase drinks on campus that have fewer than 60 calories in a 12-ounce serving, much less than many sodas.”
“They’re going to have water, juice, milk, and carbonated water in all schools, plus lower-calorie beverages in high schools,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told PBS. “And then for snacks, there are things like granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, fruit cups. It will be a much healthier mix of products, but things that kids have seen and like.”
Wootan also said that since much of the funding for school food comes from the federal government, schools have to meet certain nutritional standards. “If you’re going to take this $13 billion a year, you need to serve kids healthy food,” she said.
Association reaction to the news was mixed.
The American Beverage Association commended the USDA “for its thorough work in developing the first-ever national standards for all foods and beverages in schools” in a statement. The group says that the standard follows the guidelines implemented by the industry in 2006, which has reduced the beverage calories sent to schools by 90 percent.
The School Nutrition Association, meanwhile, is reviewing the new rules in order to determine the effect they will have on school lunch programs.
“Complex regulations can present unique challenges and unintended consequences when put into practice,” Sandra Ford, SNA’s president, said in a statement. “SNA will work with USDA and Congress throughout implementation to ensure the competitive food regulations do not present undue burdens on school menu planners and students.”
Ford is also the director of food and nutrition services for Florida’s Manatee County School District and told the Associated Press that her district could “lose $975,000 a year under the new ‘a la carte’ guidelines because they would have to eliminate many of the popular foods they sell.”