The USDA recently announced that they’ll be seeking public comment on a new “smart snacks” proposal to help ensure that more kids have access to healthy food options. The proposal seeks to amend the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program regulations consistent with amendments made in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). As you may have heard, the USDA recently made school lunches healthier. However, most high school students and a growing percentage of elementary students also buy food a la carte and from vending machines. Since these snack food items were not covered in the original HHFKA, kids can simply skip the healthier lunch and buy junk food from a vending machine if they want. If this new proposal goes into effect, it will mean that schools will need to offer healthier snack foods for kids and limit junk food served to students. USDA notes that students will still be able to buy snacks that meet, “Common-sense standards for fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, while promoting products that have whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says:

“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. Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success.  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.”

Keep reading to learn more and to see how you can chime in on this proposal.

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These new regulations are necessary because, as the USDA points out, “Nearly one third of children in America are at risk for preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease due to being overweight or obese. If left unaddressed, health experts tell us that this generation may be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.” The proposed standards will not apply to foods brought to school in bagged lunches, or for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations. The intent of the new standard is not to limit popular student snacks but to make those snacks much healthier. USDA gives the following example: “Chips would still be allowed, in healthier versions such as baked tortilla chips, reduced-fat corn chips, and baked potato chips.”

Parents and other members of the public can leave comments about this proposal for the USDA. If you’d like to comment, do the following:

  • Review the USDA proposal (pdf) and read the Q&A (pdf).
  • The public may provide feedback through (enter FNS-2011-0019 in the search bar).
  • USDA is seeking public comment on the proposal through April 9, 2013.

+ USDA Proposes Standards to Provide Healthy Food Options in Schools

All image via USDAgov.