The days of going through the lunch line at school and picking every greasy, cheesy, fatty option are soon coming to an end. The Department of Agriculture has outlined new regulations for the kinds of foods that can be sold to kids at school. For the first time, the government is tackling the content of “a la carte” lines, vending machines, snack bars and other sources of food regularly available on school campuses. According to Registered Dietitian Mary Hartley, “the policy would increase student exposure to healthier foods and decrease exposure to less healthy foods.”
Previously unregulated, the “a la carte” lines and similar non- standard lunch line options provided kids access to foods like nachos, pizza, chocolate sandwich cookies, and other unhealthy treats. Now under the new guidelines those foods will be replaced with more healthful options like granola bars and yogurt. The new regulations also outline a difference in the beverages that can be sold in schools. Elementary and middle schools will only sell water, carbonated water, low fat and fat-free milk and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices. Sodas and sports drinks that contain 60 calories or less will be made available in high schools. Though the changes don’t have to be in effect until July 1, 2021, several schools will start implementing them in the upcoming school year. It has been found that schools with this type of reform already in place have seen little to loss of revenue from food sales.
These new rules were proposed in February and made final this week in accordance with an amendment to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2021. “The rules represent the minimum standards that local educational agencies are required to meet,” said Hartley. “Should they wish to do so; local school districts have the discretion to establish their own standards as long as such standards are consistent with the Federal standards.” The standards are put in place to encourage healthy choices in kids and help fight obesity. Under the new regulations, foods will have to be under set limits of fat, calorie, sugar and sodium. For example, only snack foods that contain less than 200 calories and have some nutritional value will be allowed.
One area that remains unregulated by the Agriculture Department guidelines is in-school fundraisers like bake sales. Decisions on what can and cannot be sold at those are up to the individual states. The guidelines also do not include anything sold after school hours or brought to school by the students themselves. “Changes in food exposure at school are important influences on the overall quality of children’s diets,” Hartley said. “They should support the efforts of parents to promote healthy choices at home and reinforce school-based nutrition education and promotion efforts.”