Candy bars, doughnuts and most chips will no longer be offered for sale at most public schools under new federal rules released today called "Smart Snacks in Schools." They are being replaced by allegedly healthier snacks such as granola bars, trail mix and baked potato chips.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's action is the first nutritional overhaul of school snacks in more than 30 years, according to CNN.
The new regulations set limits for fat, salt and sugar sold in vending machines and snack bars at schools. In addition, school foods must contain at least 50% whole grains or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient. Foods that contain at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetables will be allowed.
High-sugar sports drinks are prohibited, but the low-calorie versions will be OK, as will no-calorie flavored waters. Potable water must be made available to kids for free where meals are served.
Schools and food and beverage companies must meet the standards by July 1, 2014, according to the USDA. The rules would be in effect for the 2014-2015 school year.
"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts."
Kids will still be able to bring whatever they want from home (Flamin Hot Cheetos perhaps excepted), and parents can bring special treats in for birthday or other classroom celebrations.
The new rules are meant to help curb childhood obesity in the United States, which affects about 17% of children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(However well intentioned, the new rules may be misguided. Most granola bars are no better than candy bars--high in high-fructose corn syrup and low in nutrients. Trail mix is just as bad.)
The rules are a result of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires the USDA to improve the nutritional profile of food served in schools. The act was first implemented in 2012 with an overhaul of the meals served in schools under the National School Lunch Program, which feeds about 32 million students a year.
School meal directors were told to reduce sodium, saturated fat and trans fat and offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Those standards went into effect in July 2012 and are being phased in over a three-year period, according to the USDA.
School meals also now have calorie minimums and maximums per meal based on a child's age. Some students objected to the changes, complaining that their favorite foods were taken away or that the calorie restrictions were too low for growing teens. Kansas high school students made a music video called "We Are Hungry" (sung to the tune of "We Are Young"), complete with feigned fainting, collapsing at sports practices, and Oliver Twist-esque lunchroom scenes. It's received more than 1 million page views on YouTube.
In the wake of such criticisms, the Obama administration reversed some of the new school lunch rules, allowing such banned items as garlic bread and peanut butter back into cafeterias.
"Children cried," Sandra Ford, president of the national School Nutrition Assn., said of that dark time when PBJs left the building.