Proposed school snack overhaul up for comment

Vending machines and snack bars are among the targets of the new school nutrition rules. (Photo: Jim Bourg, Reuters)
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Trish Anderton

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pushing forward with a sweeping set of reforms aimed at making school lunches healthier. It’s published a new rule limiting the kinds of snacks schools can sell in addition to their regular breakfast and lunch services.

The agency has posted its most recent proposed regulations at regulations.gov. It’s accepting public comments on them through April 9. According to the proposed rules, any food sold in schools must be either:

     — a fruit;
     — a vegetable;
     — a dairy product;
     — a protein food;
     — a grain food that is at least 50% whole grain or lists whole grains as its first ingredient;
     — a food that contains at least a quarter-cup of fruit or vegetable;
     — or a food that contains 10 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D or fiber.

The rules would also limit the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and calories the snacks can contain. It would ban carbonated beverages and caffeine in elementary and middle schools, and limit them in high schools.

The proposals come from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , which was signed by President Obama in 2010. The law has inspired some controversy both on Capitol Hill and in schools across the country. In 2011, Congress blocked some of the rules the department put forward to implement the law. Last year many schools fielded complaints from parents who said their children — especially athletes — were going hungry as schools tried to adapt to the law.
Six people have commented on the regulations so far; four are critical, while two support the rules as proposed.

Randal Jones says the plan’s focus on fat is misguided: "Eating fat does not cause you to put on extra fat. Of course, once fat is taken out of a food, it loses flavor. What the regulations should be focusing on is highly refined carbohydrates, especially white flour and added sugar."

Jack Maas is more worried about the bottom line for schools: "My main concern is that Food Service department's that are already in a difficult situation financially, may not be able to recover if students (customers) do not purchase foods being offered by this new regulation." He suggests bringing schools and industry into the process and implementing the rules in stages.

"Children need to be EDUCATED on nutrition, don't just eliminate!" argues Glenda Simmons. "That is not the real world- they need to be able to make choices and learn to make the correct choices. Please allow me to parent and help my child make better choices."

But Ann Yates says schools never should have offered the choice of eating unhealthy foods in the first place: "It is much easier for a junk food parent to send the junk food to school with their children than it is for a health conscious parent to restrict money and choices that are pushed into their childrens faces during the 38 hours per week they are in that school. I am supposed to trust the public school to protect my children, I cannot due to the repugnent choices schools have made in the name of raising money for school projects."

And Lisa Bartel writes simply: "Excellent. Youth should not be unhealthier at the end of the day because they went to school."