On the Table: Schools will have less junk food

July 2, 2013 

DIET SCHOOL SNACKS

New rules that go into effect this time next year call for a makeover for snacks served in vending machines and school stores.

MARK LENNIHAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Score one for school snacks. A big one.

New rules that go into effect this time next year call for a makeover for snacks served in vending machines and school stores. It’s the first major change to snack rules in 30 years and comes after decades of effort by child nutrition advocates to bring more of what kids eat at school into compliance with current recommendations for diet and health.

The snack rules follow a wave of changes affecting schools as a result of the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. While the legislation aims to make sure that all children in U.S. schools have enough to eat, it also tackles overnutrition contributing to the epidemic of obesity among school-aged children.

It means the end of a lot of the junky foods and beverages that have been mainstays on school campuses for as long as many people can remember. Assuming the new interim rules are finalized as is, allowed snacks won’t contain more than 200 calories per serving.

And like the changes that have been made to school meals, the new snack rules focus on cutting saturated fat, sodium and added sugar and boosting dietary fiber and much-needed nutrients from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Drinks are included in the changes, too.

Say goodbye to sports drinks under the new rules and caffeine-containing drinks anywhere but in high schools. On the allowed list are unflavored low-fat milk and flavored or unflavored nonfat milk, 100 percent juices and zero calorie waters.

An important provision that has gotten little attention: A sodium limit will be phased in over time until 2016, when the limit will be 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Kids will still be able to bring snacks from home, so the birthday cupcakes and cookies are safe for now. Candy and other treats sold outside school hours for fundraisers are also exempt from the new standards.

Still, the new rules will go a long way toward making schools a more supportive place for kids and families trying hard to control weight. Hopefully, healthier meals and snacks modeled at school will influence kids’ lifestyles for the long haul, too.

After all, better to learn it now and not struggle to change bad eating habits later.

Suzanne Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management and nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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