The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 gave the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools. Foods sold in vending machines, “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores fall within that authority. Last week the USDA proposed “Smart Snacks in School” to ensure that those sources of snacks in schools include healthy choices.

The proposal is only the first step in the process. Here’s what happens next. The public is encouraged to read and review the “Smart Snacks in School” proposal. The USDA encourages public feedback on the “Smart Snacks in School” proposal. After the public portion closes, the USDA will take the next steps in making the proposed standards into guidelines or laws or whatever form the new rules will take.

The proposed standards have been created by drawing on “recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.”

The USDA’s website outlines the following highlights of the proposal.

  • More of the foods we should encourage. Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
  • Less of the foods we should avoid. Ensuring that snack food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
  • Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as beverage portion size and caffeine content.
  • Flexibility for important traditions. Preserving the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like occasional fundraisers and bake sales.
  • Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. Ensuring that standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at an afterschool sporting event or other activity will not be subject to these requirements.
  • Flexibility for state and local communities. Allowing significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.
  • Significant transition period for schools and industry. The standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published to ensure that schools and vendors have adequate time to adapt.
Little by little school lunch and snack options are improving in schools. This proposal looks like another step forward. I like what I see in these standards – specific regulations for foods sold or given during school hours with flexibility for foods sold at events or donated to classroom activities.

What is your first impression of the “Smart Snacks in School” proposal?

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

USDA's 'Smart Snacks in School' proposal open for public comment
The USDA wants to set nutritional standards for snacks sold in vending machines, "a la carte" lunch lines and school stores.