In order to implement additional mandates by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published the Smart Snacks in School standards for all foods sold in school outside the school meals programs. These are practical, science-based standards for foods sold in vending machines and à la carte lines — standards that make the healthy choice the easy choice for students.
Highlights of the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards include:
- More of the foods we should encourage. Like the new school meals, the standards require healthier foods, including more whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and leaner protein.
- Less of the foods we should avoid. The standards require food items that are lower in fat, sugar and sodium, and provide more of the nutrients children need.
- Targeted standards. The standards allow variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
- Flexibility for important traditions. Parents may still send their children to school with homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations, and schools can continue traditions such as fundraisers and bake sales.
- Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. Standards affect only foods that are sold on the school campus during the school day. Foods sold at after-school sports events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
- Flexibility for state and local communities. The standards allow for significant local and regional autonomy by establishing only minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards will be able to maintain their own policies.
Since the new standards become effective in the 2014-15 school year, schools have time to make any changes that the standards require. A team approach may be important, as successful implementation will require support not only from school nutrition personnel but also from school administrators, sports teams, clubs and others involved in food sales. USDA will support efforts with training and technical assistance.
More specifically, the USDA suggests that schools:
- Reach out to school district leadership to discuss the new standards and ensure that the leadership team understands that the standards will affect all venues in which foods are sold in your schools, including the cafeteria, vending machines, school stores, etc. Compliance with the new standards is not limited to foods sold by school food service and is likely to impact other members of the school community, potentially including school administrators, sports teams, clubs and parent organizations.
- Plan procurement activities accordingly. In many cases, food purchasing activities for the next school year begin this year. Ensure that purchasing plans reflect the new standards and that any needed revisions in light of product specifications and other procurement procedures are addressed.
- Develop a plan for ensuring compliance in the coming year. The plan should include all those involved in food sales and should identify appropriate roles and responsibilities for implementing the new standards.
- Communicate widely about the new standards. This is an opportune time to develop a communications plan for conveying the upcoming changes to students, parents, school organizations and school staff. A key component of such a plan will be communicating to your school leadership and the community at large the many ways in which these changes will positively benefit children. Your messaging can publicize that the revised meal pattern changes coupled with new snack standards will support students in developing a lifelong habit of healthier food choices. Recent research indicates that a large majority of parents support nutrition standards for snacks sold in schools.
For more information, visit the Smart Snacks in School web page.