The Raising the Bar for Nutrition Standards infographic I posted earlier this week made a good argument for national standards for snacks sold in school. Snacks are the foods that are sold separately from what is offered as the lunch choice or choices for the day. They are a la carte, and in some schools, kids can choose to spend their money solely on foods from the snack choices without bringing their own lunch or buying a school lunch.

Today, the government is announcing that there will be significant changes to what snacks — or “competitive foods” as they are called — will be allowed in schools. USA Today reports that the new standards will start with the 2014-2015 school year.

Here are some of the basic guidelines.

  • A snack or side dish may have no more than 200 calories; an entrée that isn’t part of the regular school lunch can’t have more than 350 calories.
  • There will be limits for fat, saturated fat and sugar. (Reduced-fat cheese and nuts don’t need to meet the fat requirements.)
  • Foods need to qualify as a “fruit, vegetable, dairy product, protein food, or whole-grain-rich product or a combination food that contains at least 1/4 cup of fruit or vegetable.”
These standards will apply to foods sold during lunch only. They don’t apply to after-school snacks, treats brought in for classroom parties, or food sold at school activities.

The standards apply to beverages, too.

When it comes to beverages, all schools may sell water or carbonated water; unflavored low-fat milk; flavored or unflavored fat-free milk and soy alternatives; 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Portion sizes of milk and juice vary by the age of students.
There are additional beverage options for high school students including lower or calorie-free beverages. But schools can't sell regular-calorie sports drinks.

These standards, like the school lunch standards that schools started to phase in last year, are far from perfect. Lower fat, calories and sodium doesn’t necessarily equal high nutrition. High fat potato chips will no longer be offered but low-fat chips, which are usually called baked chips will be. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a bag of baked chips, you’ll know there are more chemicals in them than on a bag of regular chips, which usually contain potatoes, oil and salt.

But it’s a start, and Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sees it as “one step closer to getting junk food out of schools.”

"Eventually all school foods will have to contain real food -- fruit, vegetable or other healthy food component," Wootan says. "Companies won't be able to just fortify snacks with cheap nutrients and then sell them in schools as healthy."

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

New government snack food standards for schools
The Smart Snacks in Schools program cuts the fat and calories of snacks offered.