The USDA has released its highly anticipated Interim Final Rules for snack foods sold in schools, replete with a healthy upgrade and a nifty visual flier to help explain the changes.
As an interim rule, the USDA is taking public comments for 120 days, after which the rules could change. And if pressure from food and drink manufacturers to keep these products on school property is any indicator of what might happen after the comment period ends, the situation's complexity could intensify.
While school lunches received a healthy upgrade in early 2012, this is the first official ruling on snack food options. According to Marion Nestle, the category known as "competitive foods" has long been an issue for schools: "They compete for kids’ food money with the school meals," she said on her blog. "Although USDA regulates where and when they can be sold, schools routinely violate such rules. I’ve seen for myself how many schools allow vending machines to be open during lunch periods."
The new standards will require schools to ensure all snacks in vending machines and carts (outside school property) contain whole grains. They must have a "real food" listed as the first ingredient. Fresh drinking water must be available in all schools at no cost to children, and other drink options need to have fewer than 40 calories per 8 fl oz, or 60 calories per 12 fl oz. That, according to Nestle, means no more sodas or sugary sports drinks like Gatorade available on school property.
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