WASHINGTON – Goodbye candy bars and sugary cookies. Hello baked chips and diet sodas.
The government for the first time is proposing broad new standards to make sure all foods sold in schools are more healthful, a change that would ban the sale of almost all candy, high-calorie sports drinks and greasy foods on campus.
Under new rules the Department of Agriculture proposed Friday, school vending machines would start selling water, lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and baked chips instead. Lunchrooms that now sell fatty “a la carte” items like mozzarella sticks and nachos would have to switch to healthier pizzas, low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups and yogurt.
The rules, required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010, are part of the government’s effort to combat childhood obesity. While many schools already have made improvements in their lunch menus and vending machine choices, others still are selling high-fat, high-calorie foods.
Under the proposal, the Agriculture Department would set fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools. Current standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches that are subsidized by the federal government, but most lunch rooms also have “a la carte” lines that sell other foods. And food sold through vending machines and in other ways outside the lunchroom has not been federally regulated.
“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.
Most snacks sold in school would have to have less than 200 calories. Elementary and middle schools could sell only water, low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. High schools could sell some sports drinks, diet sodas and iced teas, but the calories would be limited. Drinks would be limited to 12-ounce portions in middle schools, and 8-ounce portions in elementary schools.
The standards will cover vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, snack bars and any other foods regularly sold around school. They would not apply to in-school fundraisers or bake sales, though states have the power to regulate them. The new guidelines also would not apply to after-school concessions at school games or theater events, goodies brought from home for classroom celebrations, or anything students bring for their own personal consumption.
The new rules are the latest in a long list of changes designed to make foods served in schools more healthful and accessible. Nutritional guidelines for the subsidized lunches were revised last year and put in place last fall. The 2010 child nutrition law also provided more money for schools to serve free and reduced-cost lunches and required more meals to be served to hungry kids.
Schools, the food industry, interest groups and other critics or supporters of the new proposal will have 60 days to comment and suggest changes. A final rule could be in place as soon as the 2014 school year.