As of July 1, 2014, public schools must meet the USDA’s new “Smart Snacks in School” nutritional guidelines that eliminate all junk food options. This applies to any school that participates in federal lunch and breakfast programs and all products in vending machines, a la carte lunch items and even baked goods at fundraisers. Standards have been set for both food and beverages depending on grade levels. These standards apply to every part of the dishes including accompaniments like dressing, butter or cream cheese.
Food standards are based on calories, sodium, sugar and fat content. All items must have less that 35% of calories from fat, less than 10% of calories from saturated fat and contain zero grams of trans fat. All items must also contain less than 35% weight from sugar. Snack items must have less than 200 calories and 230 mg of sodium, while entrée items must have less than 350 calories and 480mg of sodium.
In addition, all foods must:
- Be a “whole grain-rich” grain product; or
- Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
- Be a combination food that contains at least 1⁄4 cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
- Contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients of public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber).
Beverages have their own guidelines based on grade level. All schools may sell plain water, with or without carbonation, unflavored low fat milk, unflavored or flavored fat free milk, milk alternatives as permitted by NSLP/SBP, 100% fruit or vegetable juice and 100% fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water and no added sweeteners. Elementary schools may sell 8-ounce portions of milk and juice, while middle and high schools may sell 12-ounce portions. High Schools solely are also allowed to sell items containing caffeine.There are no limits on water.
The standards do not apply during non-school hours, on weekend and at off-campus fundraising events. There are also some exceptions made for infrequent fundraiser that do not meet these standards, but state agencies will have the final say about how often these exceptions can be made. The video below that explains an overview of the new standards.
Criticisms include an increase in waste, as children throw out undesirable food, and an overwhelming increase in operations and sourcing costs. As well, some of the standards do not necessarily equate to healthier choices, such as 100% fruit juice which can contain just as much sugar as soda. While the intention of these new guidelines is good, it is not clear yet whether or not they will be successful and how many loop holes will be exploited.
Who has the best school lunches in the U.S? Check out this list from the Daily Meal!