New standards for school vending machines

07/05/2013 5:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | An ice cream dispensing machine in the cafetorium at Riverhead Middle School.

Junk food and sugary drinks will be banned from school vending machines across the U.S. by the 2014-15 school year in an effort to promote healthier daytime eating habits among children, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced last week.

The new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The legislation passed by Congress was created through a bipartisan package designed to ensure that students have healthy food options in school.

The law, which tasked USDA officials with setting new standards for food and snacks offered in schools across the country, is also a component of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.

“Many parents are working hard every day to make sure they provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to their kids,” Ms. Obama said in a statement issued to the press Monday. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the snacks our kids have access to when they’re away from home. That’s why, as a mom myself, I am so excited that schools will now be offering healthier choices to students and reinforcing the work we do at home to help our kids stay healthy.”

Standards limiting sodium, calorie and fat content will affect many items found in school vending machines, such as snacks, chips, cheese puffs and flavored popcorn.

In addition, the USDA will ban many sugar-heavy cereal bars, cookies and cakes from machines.

School districts must also remove regular cola, fruit-flavored candies and chocolate bars and replace them with healthier options, such as fruit cups made with 100 percent juice, light popcorn and no-calorie flavored water.

The vending machine announcement comes about five months after the USDA announced new standards for school cafeteria food.

And while elementary and middle schools will be caffeine-free, the USDA is still looking into how much caffeine can be contained in drinks sold at high school cafeterias and vending machines.

Under the new guidelines, schools will also have to offer more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items, as well as healthier versions of chips, such as baked tortilla and potato chips and reduced-fat corn chips, and pizza, which will be made from whole-grain crusts.

Officials said the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards take into considerations about 250,000 comments the USDA received on the proposal earlier this year.

Nonfat flavored milk is still allowable under the new standards.

Not all gooey and unhealthy treats will be banned from schools under the new law, however.

Bagged lunches and foods brought from home for birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations, as well as fundraisers and bake sales, would not be affected. Foods sold after school, during sporting events, plays and other activities, would also be exempt.

Local school officials have embraced the new standards and most North Fork districts have already begun promoting good eating habits through their network of school vegetable gardens.

For more information about “Smart Snacks in School,” visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/allfoods.htm.

jennifer@timesreview.com 

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