The USDA recently released their Smart Snacks in School rule. They defined nutrition standards to be applied to all snacks and beverages sold on school campuses during the school day. We applaud the effort to keep healthy options for kids and adults. It will help support healthy decision making all day long, hopefully setting lifelong habits – but we also understand the challenge for cash strapped schools that have used school store sales (including snacks and sometimes beverages) to supplement budgets.
Here are some of the highlights brought about by the new nutrition rules:
- 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.
So what does this mean? The good news is that we have a year to implement. The rules are an extension of the school lunch standards so looking at what you’ve done in the cafeteria is a good place to start. Getting the faculty, staff, students and parents on board makes sense too. Helping them to understand the benefits of the change and informing them of changes as or even before they are made is helpful too.