No more school junk food under federal proposal

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The kitchen at Aquebogue Elementary School
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The kitchen at Aquebogue Elementary School. The U.S.D.A. released Friday a plan to promote healthy eating in schools.

A ban on junk food and a restriction on caffeinated drinks in public schools are some of the changes that would be made in public schools if new legislation proposed Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is approved.

According to a press release issued by the U.S.D.A. last week, school cafeterias across the nation need to promote healthier foods instead of serving greasy pizza and sugary drinks in order to combat childhood obesity.

The new sodium, calorie and fat standards will affect many items found in vending machines, such as fatty snacks, chips, cheese puffs and flavored popcorn. In addition, the plan calls on banning many cereal bars, cookies and cakes because they contain lots of sugar.

If the new legislation is approved, most lunch items will have to contain 50 percent or more whole grains or have its first ingredient be a whole grain. The USDA’s report recommends whole grains for pizza crusts and hamburger buns.

Schools will also have to offer more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy items in their cafeterias, as well as healthier versions of chips, such as baked tortilla chips, reduced-fat corn chips and baked potato chips.

As for beverages for younger students, most drinks should be sold in 8 or 4-ounce containers, depending on grade level. While caffeinated drinks would no longer be made available to elementary and middle school students, certain low-calorie varieties would still be offered at high schools under the proposed plan.

Bagged lunches and foods brought to the school for birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations, would be exempt. Foods sold for fundraising events would also be exempt only after school hours, such as during sporting events and school plays.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that he believes the new nutrition plan provides the groundwork for “good health and academic success.”

“Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door,” he said. “Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids.”

U.S.D.A. officials said the proposed changes were created through a bipartisan package passed by Congress in 2010 designed to ensure that students have healthy options in school and is a component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.

The U.S.D.A. is currently soliciting feedback from the public through a 60-day written comment period.

Scroll down to view the proposed legislation.

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USDA’s Smart Snacks in School proposal, February, 1, 2013