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Raising Standards: Healthier School Snacks

healthier school snacksWhile not everyone agrees that schools have an influence on childhood obesity, there are plenty of people that do. A major point of contention over the years has been the snacks sold in vending machines at schools. Vending machines raise money for the school, but they also provide easy access to junk food. Lets be frank, junk food is a best seller. In high school I stood in line at the vending machine right outside the sports locker room every afternoon, waiting to get a pre-game snack of Pop Tarts and Powerade.

Personally as a dietitian I think the food served in schools, vending machines and snack carts included, plays a huge role in the health of our children. Kids typically spend more hours at school than they do at home, so it’d be pretty tough for parents to override the messages they’re getting all day long. Plus, they often eat over half their daily calories while at school. The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project’s health impact assessment of 2011 showed that not only did healthier school snacks and drinks have a positive effect on kids’ weight, but it also increased school revenue. Sounds like a win-win to me.

The USDA agrees. Last week they released a set of new standards for snacks sold in public schools. These new standards better reflect the nutrition requirements already set in place for subsidized lunch programs. They come as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. These standards are called “Smart Snacks in Schools“. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is the first nutritional redo of school snacks in over 30 years.

Under these guidelines, schools will no longer be able to sell things like doughnuts or cookies, but granola bars, light popcorn, and fruit cups get the green light. Foods in a la carte lines, snack machines, and other food sold on school property will be subject to fat, sugar, calorie, and sodium limits. Permitted drinks include flavored water and diet sodas, as opposed to sugary sodas and sports drinks. Surprisingly enough, big beverage and food companies are on board with the new regulations. The rules don’t affect foods brought in from home or sold for fundraisers, the USDA’s way of striking a balance. Changes are to take place for the 2014-2015 school year.

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