Out go junk foods during school hours and in come “Smart Foods”. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the USDA is replacing candy bars and potato chips with granola bars and baked chips as part of the USDA’s new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards.

Secretary Vilsack said “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. 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.”

Since the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 came into force, which removed junk foods and high calorie beverages from school vending machines, the USDA has had to set up nutrition standards for all foods that are sold in American schools. The ACT stipulates that the USDA’s standards must go beyond the federally-supported meal programs.

The American Diabetes Association applauded the U.S. Senate when they passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, stating that the the legislation gives schools “the tools to provide the nutritious food needed to put us on track to reverse these trends.”.

The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards will be published later this week in the Federal Register. The USDA thanked the nearly 250,000 comments that helped in the creation of the new standards.

The new standards are based on existing standards implemented in thousands of schools across the country and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. The aim of the new nutrition standards is to promote much healthier eating in American schools.

The “Smart Snacks in School” plans include:
  • Encouraging healthier foods, such as vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains low in fat
  • Providing food items that give children all the nutrients they need, ensuring they are low in fats, sugars and sodium.
  • Varying standards, such as portion size and caffeine content, according to age group.
  • Allowing parents to still make packed lunches for their children and certain school traditions, like bake sales.
  • Giving school food and drink companies a full year to make the changes. The USDA will offer help in training and technical assistance.
  • Ensuring that the standards are only implemented and enforced on school campuses during normal school hours. Food and drinks sold on campus during special events after school hours don’t need to follow the new guidelines.
  • Allowing states and schools that already have stricter policies to maintain them.
The USDA says it is doing its best to improve the nutritional standards of the food kids are eating in schools, as well as providing families with advice on what a healthy meal is.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 significantly improved the nutritional quality of school meals and these new standards will only make them even healthier.

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A selection of fresh fruit, salads, vegetables and turkey and cheese sandwiches at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia

People can use the USDA’s MyPlate resources at the website ChooseMyPlate.gov, which provides nutrition tips, healthy food plans and sample menus and recipes.

Last year, the USDA launched the $5 million Farm to School grant program which helped schools have access to healthier, local foods.

Policies such as these could significantly help the country tackle its childhood obesity epidemic, one of the Obama Administration’s top priorities.

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity and Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, wrote an editorial published in the journal Childhood Obesity, stating that schools play a crucial role in encouraging healthy eating, which can reduce obesity among children.

He concluded: “Standards for school food should be set high, and our society should do what it takes to get there from here.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist