The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed nutritional guidelines that would insure that schools sell only healthy snacks and drinks to students during the school day. They are asking for comments on the proposal. Now is our time as parents, educators, food services workers, health care workers, people who support kids - to let them know what we think.
According to the USDA press release, Highlights of USDA's proposal include:
- More of the foods we should encourage. Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
- Less of the foods we should avoid. Ensuring that snack 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 beverage portion size and caffeine content.
- Flexibility for important traditions. Preserving the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like occasional fundraisers and bake sales.
- 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 an afterschool sporting event or other activity 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.
- Significant transition period for schools and industry. The standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published to ensure that schools and vendors have adequate time to adapt.
Organizations, such as Prevent Obesity have made it easier to support the effort with ready-fill petitions, which is great. I suspect that anyone reading this post does indeed support healthy options for kids. BUT many of us also recognize that unfortunately competitive foods and snack items are where most school foodservice operations make their money and not from normal meals. Most foodservice runs independently from the school budget and they run on such thin margins that they offer the competitive foods to help just to break even.
So while we whole-heartedly support the initiative to promote healthy eating, we encourage people to remind the USDA and other policymakers that paying lip service to healthy eating may not be enough. We also need to adequately fund school food programs so that foodservice workers on the front lines are not put in a position where they must decide between nutritional and financial health.