USDA Announces New “Smart Snacks In School” Standards

June 27, 2013

The USDA unveiled their interim final rule establishing national nutrition guidelines for “competitive foods,” or food and beverages served in school outside the National School Lunch Program,

At Healthy Schools Campaign, we have been working with schools to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for students. Now, thanks to a significant new set of standards from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we will have another resource to help implement changes that make those healthier choices easier and pave the way for school districts across the country to more effectively implement healthy snack and beverage policies.

Today the USDA unveiled their interim final rule establishing national nutrition guidelines for “competitive foods,” or food and beverages served in school outside the National School Lunch Program, which include a la carte cafeteria items and items in vending machines and school stores. These “Smart Snacks in School” standards include requirements calling for more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables and foods lower in fat, sugar and sodium. The standards also allow for variation by age group for factors, such as portion size and caffeine content, and are developmentally appropriate for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. These new guidelines will take effect in July 2014, which provides time for schools and the marketplace to adapt to the new standards.

This is a huge step in the right direction, and we commend USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and everyone at the USDA who have shown their commitment to making schools healthier places. We also commend all of you: this could not have happened without you, the parents, students, school nurses, school administrators, teachers and other stakeholders who raised your voices and demanded these changes. In the wake of the release of the proposed guidelines in February, Healthy Schools Campaign, our friends at PreventObesity.net and more than 100 other organizations mobilized our allies to submit comments in support of the proposed guidelines during the comment period. The USDA received thousands of letters on this issue urging them to stand up for healthy school snacks and beverages. Because of people like you, the USDA knows how important these guidelines are to kids’ health.

These changes are significant, but there is still work that needs to be done. There will still be powerful voices in the food and beverage industry working to dilute or strike down these new guidelines, and school districts will face challenges over the next year implementing the changes. We encourage all of you to continue to raise your voice on these issues and find out more about how you can get involved in helping make these healthy changes in your communities. In the immediate meantime, we also encourage you to take a look at the information the USDA has released about these new standards and check out other resources on this important issue, such as this informative infographic from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. Together, we can continue to work to make healthy choices an integral part of the school day.