USDA on Friday announced the public comment period has opened on proposed new standards to ensure that children have access to healthy food options in school.
"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," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, beyond the federally-supported school meals programs. The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule, to be published soon in the Federal Register, is the first step in the process to create national standards.
The new proposed standards draw 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.
Highlights of USDA's proposal include:
- Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
- Ensuring that snack food items are 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
-Providing a transition period for schools and industry by requiring at least one full school year after public comment is before implementing a rule.
The public is encouraged to review the proposal and to provide comments and information for consideration by USDA. The text of the proposed rule is available here.
Once the rule is published in the Federal Register, which is expected next week, the public will be able to provide feedback through www.regulations.gov. USDA will seek public comment on the proposal for 60 days.
For more information on the proposed rule, click here.