Schools ditch junk food

Goodbye M&M's, hello granola bars as school snacks
Associated Press
Jun 27, 2013

 

Kids, your days of blowing off those healthier school lunches and filling up on cookies from the vending machine are numbered. The government is onto you.

For the first time, the Agriculture Department is telling schools what sorts of snacks they can sell. The new restrictions announced Thursday fill a gap in nutrition rules that allowed many students to load up on fat, sugar and salt despite the existing guidelines for healthy meals.

"Parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who pushed for the new rules.

That doesn't mean schools will be limited to doling out broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Snacks that still make the grade include granola bars, low-fat tortilla chips, fruit cups and 100 percent fruit juice. And high school students can buy diet versions of soda, sports drinks and iced tea.

But say goodbye to some beloved school standbys, such as doughy pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and those little ice cream cups with their own spoons. Some may survive in low-fat or whole wheat versions. The idea is to weed out junk food and replace it with something with nutritional merit.

The bottom line, says Wootan: "There has to be some food in the food."

Still, 17-year-old Vanessa Herrera is partial to the Cheez-It crackers and sugar-laden Vitaminwater in her high school's vending machine. Granola bars and bags of peanuts? Not so much.

"I don't think anyone would eat it," said Herrera of Rockaway, N.J.

There are no vending machines at Lauren Jones' middle school in Hoover, Ala., but she said there's an "a la carte" stand that sells chips, ice cream and other snacks.

"Having something sweet to go with your meal is good sometimes," the 13-year-old said, although she also thinks that encouraging kids to eat healthier is worthwhile.

The federal snack rules don't take effect until the 2014-15 school year, but there's nothing to stop schools from making changes earlier.

Some students won't notice much difference. Many schools already are working to improve their offerings. Thirty-nine states have some sort of snack food policy in place.

Rachel Snyder, 17, said earlier this year her school in Washington, Ill., stripped its vending machines of sweets. She misses the pretzel-filled M&M's.

"If I want a sugary snack every now and then," Snyder said, "I should be able to buy it."

The federal rules put calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits on almost everything sold during the day at 100,000 schools — expanding on the previous rules for meals. The Agriculture Department sets nutritional standards for schools that receive federal funds to help pay for lunches, and that covers nearly every public school and about half of private ones.

One oasis of sweetness and fat will remain: anything students bring from home, from bagged lunches to birthday cupcakes.

The Agriculture Department was required to draw up the rules under a law passed by Congress in 2010, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, as part of the government's effort to combat childhood obesity.

Nutritional guidelines for subsidized lunches were revised last year and put in place last fall.

Last year's rules making main lunch fare more nutritious faced criticism from some conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the government shouldn't be telling kids what to eat. Mindful of that backlash, the Agriculture Department left one of the more controversial parts of the rule, the regulation of in-school fundraisers like bake sales, up to the states.

The rules have the potential to transform what many children eat at school.

In addition to meals already subject to nutrition standards, most lunchrooms also have "a la carte" lines that sell other foods — often greasy foods like mozzarella sticks and nachos. That gives students a way to circumvent the healthy lunches. Under the rules, those lines could offer healthier pizzas, low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups or yogurt and similar fare.

One of the biggest changes will be a near-ban on high-calorie sports drinks. Many beverage companies added sports drinks to school vending machines after sodas were pulled in response to criticism from the public health community.

The rule would only allow sales in high schools of sodas and sports drinks that contain 60 calories or less in a 12-ounce serving, banning the highest-calorie versions of those beverages.

Low-calorie sports drinks — Gatorade's G2, for example — and diet drinks will be allowed in high school.

Elementary and middle schools will be allowed to sell only water, carbonated water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, and low fat and fat-free milk, including nonfat flavored milks.

At a congressional hearing Thursday, a school nutritionist said schools have had difficulty adjusting to the 2012 changes, and the new "a la carte" standards could also be a hardship.

And the healthier foods are expensive, said Sandra Ford, president of the School Nutrition Association and director of food and nutrition services for a school district in Bradenton, Fla. She also predicted that her school district could lose $975,000 a year under the new "a la carte" guidelines because they would have to eliminate many of the popular foods they sell.

The food industry has been onboard with many of the changes, and several companies worked with Congress on the child nutrition law three years ago.

Angela Chieco, a mother from Clifton Park, N.Y., sees the guidelines as a good start but says it will take a bigger campaign to wean kids off junk food.

"I try to do less sugar myself," Chieco said. "It's hard to do."

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Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.

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Comments

Informed

Good! If kids and parents want to eat crap, let them do it at home.

eriemom

Or pack it in. Choice.

SMF1

For as much sugar as is in granola bars, they may as well leave the M&Ms in there.

registerer

I was thinking the same thing! Have you ever looked at the nutrition information of a granola bar? Not that great and not much better than M&M's. I think because it says granola people think its really healthy.

samiam

More nanny state!

registerer

One more freedom "big brother" is taking away! If they would focus as much on the funding of schools as they do their food content our schools would be in better shape.

ladydye_5

Changing the food at school is NOT going to make kids healthy. They stop and buy the "crap" at the gas station on the way home. The problem is NOT solved. The "healthy" food the THINK they are feeding kids is NOT so healthy, look at the sugar content. Look at the fat content. Look at the calories. With that said. My kids eat some of the actual healthy stuff. It is EXPENSIVE. Many kids cannot afford it. Some parents would CRY at the cost of it. There is not a magic food that is going to make kids skinny and healthy. It is a complete lifestyle change.

deertracker

The ideal is to offer food that promotes wellness. The choice is still theirs. That is where the lifestyle change comes in. Americans are FAT and need to fix that.

Informed

It is not a freedom that big brother is taking away. Big brother provides it in the first place. Kids can still pack their own crap in lunches.
Many granola bars are in fact better than candy--they have fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein.
Some of you sound like you think schools should have a full supermarket of choices for kids. It is school-provided food. It should represent a balanced diet--not candy, ice cream, or pop.

The Big Dog's back

The nanny state right wingers want everything provided to them.

Informed

If all of you are so concerned about "big brother" and freedom limitations, I am sure that means you are in favor of equality, including same-sex marriage, right?