School lunch

Efforts to improve the diets of America’s children have led the USDA to create its latest weapon in the fight against childhood obesity: the Smart Snacks in School rule.

Effective last week, the new rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 and aims to set a “national baseline” for what types of food and snacks can be sold in schools. “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 in a news release about the proposed rule.

The rule has a huge impact on school vending machines, cafeterias and stores—nixing junk food options like chips and candy bars. Instead, optional food items sold in schools will have to meet minimum nutrition standards and a maximum 200-calorie limit per portion size. There will also be caps on the amount of fat, sodium and sugar allowed per item type.

While many of the nation’s schools have already eliminated sugary soft drinks (and in some cases, flavored milk products), the rule will eliminate all caffeinated beverages from all schools through middle school (high schools will still be allowed to carry certain diet sodas and other caffeinated beverages). And as high calorie/low nutrition snack foods are still widely available for purchase in many of the nation’s schools, those food items will also be minimized. In essence, the new food rule will make the available snack options better resemble the new school lunch program that went into effect last Fall and focuses on the inclusion of more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nonfat dairy and lean meats.

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Image: USDA.gov