Empowering Schools to Make Healthy Choices Easy Choices

March 11, 2013

Food and beverage items sold in schools outside of the National School Lunch Program are known as “competitive foods” because they do just that: they compete with healthier options in the school lunch program. Offering healthy snacks instead of chocolate and chips will ensure students will have an easier time choosing more nutritious food items when in the cafeteria line or at the school store.

We believe the healthy choice should be the easy choice. And parents who strive to give their kids nutritious food should know that their efforts are being reinforced at school.  Students consume on average more than half their daily calories at school, and roughly 40 percent of students buy a snack at school each day. But the reality is that even if students have a healthy lunch, many are still consuming junk food, heavily processed snacks or sugary drinks — chips in the a la carte line, soda in the vending machines or candy in the school store.

Although new federal nutrition standards for school lunch programs have recently been implemented, the lack of regulation surrounding junk food and sugary beverages sets these new standards up for failure. Food and beverage items sold in schools outside of the National School Lunch Program are known as “competitive foods” because they do just that: they compete with healthier options in the school lunch program. Offering healthy snacks instead of chocolate and chips will ensure students will have an easier time choosing more nutritious food items when in the cafeteria line or at the school store.

But big changes may be ahead, and we need your help to make them happen. For the first time since 1979, the USDA has released proposed nutritional standards [PDF] for snack food and beverages sold in schools. We applaud the USDA for taking this important next step, but we must also do our part to ensure that these proposed changes go into effect and that the USDA acts on behalf of the health of our schools and our children.

The USDA is asking for feedback on these new regulations, so please submit a comment to the USDA.

Related to the proposed rule, we believe:

  • All foods sold in the cafeteria, including à la carte items, should adhere to nutritional standards that focus on limiting sugar, fat and sodium. We don’t want our kids having pizza and fries for lunch every day.

  • Schools should meet nutritional requirements through whole foods with naturally occurring nutrients rather than through fortification. The health benefits of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products cannot be duplicated simply by adding vitamins or minerals to processed snack foods. Kids should have a fundamental appreciation of food in its most natural, healthful state.
  • Standards for school fundraisers will have a positive impact on students’ eating habits, and we commend the USDA for taking this step. We believe that the USDA should offer clear and specific guidance to states regarding nutritionally sound, health-based standards for fundraisers.

The USDA is collecting comments through April 9, and want to hear from everyone. We know from past experiences that the snack and beverage industries will be making their opinions known, and we need everyone who cares about healthy schools and healthy students to commit to raising their voices and advocating for healthier options. We have partnered with our friends at PreventObesity.net so you can take action and make your voice heard.

Please join us in telling the USDA why it's so important to implement effective standards that ensure our kids have access to healthy, nutritious food throughout the school day. We thank our friends, partners and all of you for taking action and standing up for an easy, healthy choice for our students.