The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now beginning to close the loop on setting the nutrition standards the agency started working on back in 2010. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the USDA to establish a set of nutrition standards for all foods prepared and sold in public schools beyond the current federally-supported school meals programs already in place. The USDA has announced that the public comment period is open concerning the proposed new standards in its "Smart Snacks in School" program that is designed to ensure that more American children have access to healthy food options in their schools.
The "Smart Snacks in School" regulation set to be published in the Federal Register is the first step in the process of creating nationwide standards that draw on sources including recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already in place in thousands of schools around the nation, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings that are already available in the general marketplace.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said of the program that "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, good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. 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 so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."
Major points of the new USDA healthy foods proposal include:
Pointing out more good foods –
Promoting the availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
Identifying foods to be avoided –
Making sure that snack food items in schools are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
Targeted standards –
To help allow variation by age group for factors like beverage portion size and caffeine content.
Flexibility with important traditions –
Confirming the need to preserve the ability of parents to give their children bagged lunches of their choice or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations, as well as allowing schools to continue observing traditions like fundraisers and bake sales.
Setting reasonable limitations on applying the standards –
Limiting the standards to only affect those foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at after school events or other activities will not be subject to the new requirements.
Flexibility of state and local communities –
Ensuring local and regional autonomy by establishing only minimum requirements for school foods. States with schools that have stricter standards than those now being proposed will be able to maintain their existing policies.
Significant transition period for schools and industry –
Making sure that the standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after all public comment has been considered and an implementing rule has been published to ensure that schools and food vendors both have time to adapt.
The USDA encourages the public to review the proposal and to provide comments and information for consideration by the agency. The proposals can be viewed after they have been published in the Federal Register at the end of February, and the public will be able to provide feedback at the regulations.gov website.