Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained, “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.” He added, “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools—beyond the federally-supported meals programs. The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards, which will be published in the Federal Register, reflect USDA's consideration and response to the nearly 250,000 comments received on the proposal earlier this year.
According to USDA, “Smart Snacks in School” carefully balances science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating on campus, drawing on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.
Highlights of the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards include:
• More of the foods we should encourage. Like the new school meals, the standards require healthier foods, more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein.
• Less of the foods we should avoid. Food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
• Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
• Flexibility for important traditions. Preserving the ability for parents to send their kids to school with homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like fundraisers and bake sales.
• Ample time for implementation. Schools and food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes, and USDA will offer training and technical assistance every step of the way.
• Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. Ensuring that standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at afterschool sporting events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
• Flexibility for state and local communities. 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.
USDA cited its focus on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food. The new nutrition standards are a component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to combat the challenge of childhood obesity.
Like the “Smart Snacks in School” standards, the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also made way for USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov; a $5 million Farm to School grant program enacted in 2012 to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools; and $5.2 million in grants awarded to provide training and technical assistance for child nutrition foodservice professionals and support stronger school nutrition education programs.