National School Lunch Week is upon us and here at Money Saving Parent, we have been thinking more about the food our kids eat at school, learning about food requirements, and sharing what we find with our readers. Today, we would like to take a closer look at the new regulations that just took effect regarding school food and how they impact what children eat from elementary school through high school.
One of the major changes in school food is known as the Smart Snacks in School regulation, handed down by the federal government after passage of the Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids Act in 2010 and placed into effect this year. This new set of regulations requires that schools adopt tougher food standards not just for lunch, but for all food, including snacks and a la carte items. Some say these requirements are long overdue. Others say they are too strict and too difficult for schools to meet.
How far do these new regulations go? Take a look at the list of new requirements and judge for yourself:
Any food sold in schools 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 ¼ 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).
● In addition, foods sold at school must also meet several nutrient requirements:
° Snack items: ≤ 200 calories
° Entrée items: ≤ 350 calories
° Snack items: ≤ 230 mg
° Entrée items: ≤ 480 mg
° Total fat: ≤35% of calories
° Saturated fat: < 10% of calories
° Trans fat: zero grams
° ≤ 35% of weight from total sugars in foods
All Schools Can Sell:
- Plain water (with or without carbonation)
- Unflavored low fat milk
- Unflavored or flavored fat free milk and milk alternatives permitted by NSLP/SBP
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice and
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water (with or without carbonation), and no added sweeteners.
- Elementary schools may sell up to 8-ounce portions, while middle schools and high schools may sell up to 12-ounce portions of milk and juice. There is no portion size limit for plain water.
- Beyond this, the standards allow additional “no calorie” and “lower calorie” beverage options for high school students:
• No more than 20-ounce portions of:
• Calorie-free, flavored water (with or without carbonation); and
• Other flavored and/or carbonated beverages that are labeled to contain < 5 calories per 8 fluid ounces or ≤ 10 calories per 20 fluid ounces.
• No more than 12-ounce portions of:
• Beverages with ≤ 40 calories per 8 fluid ounces, or ≤ 60 calories per 12 fluid ounces.
Why did the federal government feel the need to micromanage our children’s food intake? The primary reason, of course, is the high incidence of child obesity. One doesn’t have to look very far to see that children today are larger and in worse overall physical condition than the children from generations past. Some blame lack of exercise, others blame excess sugar, and still more say it’s due to the preponderance of electronics and leisure- enhancing devices. There isn’t much that governments can do about some of the potential causes, but since public schools are government- run institutions and since the National School Lunch Program is so popular, regulation of school food seemed like a logical place to turn.
It’s probably too early to know if these standards will make much difference. But looking at news published on the internet and elsewhere, it appears that the reactions from students have been mixed. Some young people agree that healthy eating is a good idea and they welcome the changes. Others feel that more regulations are an infringement on personal freedoms and have decided to opt out of the school lunch program completely. Still others feel that added regulations, however well- intentioned, are not likely to make much difference. Children, they argue, will find a way to get around the rules and will eat and drink what they like regardless. Worse still, some parents have few, if any, health restrictions on food consumed in the home and through their own bad example, have indirectly encouraged poor eating habits on the part of their children.
School lunches are an important part of the day. They provide much needed mid- day nourishment and a chance to socialize with friends. What children eat does make a difference over time and the government regulators behind Smart Snacks in School hope that the changes, even if not well received by a majority of students, will be enough to at least make a small dent in the present health crisis. The new food restrictions are tough, but they could prove themselves worthwhile if they succeed at reducing the difficult and far- reaching problem of child obesity.
Copyright 2014, Bryan Carey