The new "Smart Snacks for Schools" is the USDA's first nutritional overhaul for school snacks in more than 30 years. The regulations have set new limits for nutritional content in food, including limits on fat, salt and sugar sold in vending machines and snack bars on campuses across the country.
School foods must contain at least 50 percent whole grain or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient, unless a quarter-cup of the snack is made up of fruit or vegetables.
Beverages available in drink machines are also affected, which will limit sports drinks and sodas based on their sugar and calorie counts. Low-calorie versions of the drinks are acceptable, as are juices and low-fat and fat-free milk.
Water must be provided free for students where meals are served.
The standards will be enacted by July 1, 2014, which means they begin in schools for the 2014-2015 year.
The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of required the USDA to create nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, not just federally funded programs. The "Smart Snacks for Schools" guidelines come from recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine and standards that are already in place in many schools in the U.S.
The full report contains variations based on age, including changes in the regulations for portion size and caffeine content. It does not prevent parents from sending snacks with their children to school or homemade lunches.
“It’s important to teach children healthy eating habits that will affect their health throughout their lives. It doesn’t make sense for schools to teach nutrition in the classroom, then counter it by selling sugary drinks and candy bars in vending machines in the hallway,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Support is in place for schools to gradually implement the program throughout the coming school year.