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New Nutrition Rules for Snacks and Beverages in Schools

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nutrition_standardsEating healthier at school will be easier, now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its new Smart Snacks in School rule. Defining nutrition standards that will be applicable to all snacks and beverages sold on school campuses during the school day, the Smart Snacks in School regulations will cover some 50 million children attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of the federal school lunch program.  The Smart Snacks standards must be implemented by the start of the 2014-15 school year. 

"This is a significant change in the way young people in this country eat and what they eat, and I think it's going to make a significant difference," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on MSNBC on Thursday.

Some Highlights from USDA on the "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards include the following:

  • Like the new school meal regulations, these new standards require healthier foods, more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner proteins.  School food must be lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
  • The new regulations also implement the new requirement that schools make free drinking water available to children during meal times
  • The standards vary by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
  • Schools still have flexibility for important traditions and parental oversight for homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations. 
  • There is plenty of time for implementation. Schools and food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes, and the USDA will offer training and technical assistance every step of the way.
  • There are reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. The standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Food and beverages sold at after-school activities, such as sporting events, are not subject to the standards.
  • States and local communities retain flexibility and autonomy, as these rules are the established minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards will be able to maintain their own policies. State agencies will also have authority to determine exemptions for infrequent fundraisers.
What do these regulations mean for YOUR SCHOOL?
  1. The nutrition guidelines cover all foods and beverages SOLD on the school campus in student areas. This includes vending machines, school stores, snack shops, coffee carts, and a la carte lines - basically anything sold outside of the school lunch and breakfast programs. Fundraisers that take place throughout the school day are also part of the rule. Teachers' lounges are exempt from the regulations.
  2. The regulations are for the entire school day, including from midnight to 30 minutes after the school day ends. So all before-school snack foods and options are covered by the rule.
  3. Now is the time to take action and look at your school’s policies and practices regarding competitive foods.  The Smart Snacks rule must be implemented at the start of the 2014 school year, so schools can take the 2013-14 year to test out new products, and try new options. For many school districts, it may be easier to start of the school year with the new standards, so they can be phased in.

Action for Healthy Kids can help you make sense of the new rules, too. We have tool kits, resources and handouts. We are also updating our school wellness policy tool to meet the new regulations, and put additional guidance right at your fingertips. We are here to help you.

Learn more about the Smart Snacks Interim rule:

USDA Press Release

USDA Interim Rule