WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. agriculture secretary said healthier school lunch standards took a step forward Friday with the opening of the public comment period.
Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, said the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all food sold in schools -- beyond the federally-supported school meals programs.
"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," Vilsack said in a statement. "Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch."
The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register, is the first step in the process to create national standards. The new proposed standards draws on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.
The proposed rule calls for:
-- Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
-- Snack food items lower in fat, sugar and sodium.
-- Allowing variation by age group for factors such as beverage portion size and caffeine content.
-- Preserving the ability for parents to prepare 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.
-- Ensuring standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at an after school sporting event or other activity will not be subject to these requirements.
-- Allowing significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools.