USDA orders schools to alter snack offerings

The new rules won’t apply to fund-raisers, after-school concession stands, class parties, or foods brought from home.

Some examples of what could be in and out under the rules, provided the items meet or don’t meet all of the requirements:

■ Baked potato chips

■ Granola bars

■ Cereal bars

■ Trail mix

■ Dried fruit

■ Fruit cups

■ Yogurt

■ Sugarless gum

■ Whole grain-rich muffins

■ 100 percent juice drinks

■ Diet soda (high schools)

■ Flavored water (high schools)

■ Diet sports drinks (high schools)

■ Unsweetened or diet iced teas (high schools)

■ Baked lower-fat french fries

■ Healthier pizzas with whole grain crust

■ Lean hamburgers with whole wheat buns


■ Candy

■ Snack cakes

■ Most cookies

■ Pretzels

■ High-calorie sodas

■ High-calorie sports drinks

■ Juice drinks that are not 100 percent juice

■ Most ice cream and ice cream treats

■ High-fat chips and snacks

■ Greasy pizza

■ Deep-fried, high-fat foods

WASHINGTON — Snack food sold in U.S. schools must be lower in fat, salt, and sugar, according to federal rules released on Thursday aimed at giving students more nutritious options and fighting childhood obesity.

Schools have until July 1, 2014, to implement the rules outlined on Thursday.

Nutritional guidelines for subsidized lunches were revised last year and put in place last fall.

But for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is telling schools what sorts of snacks they can sell.

The new restrictions fill a gap in nutrition rules that allowed many students to load up on fat, sugar, and salt despite the existing guidelines for healthy meals.

“Parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school,” said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who pushed for the new rules.

That doesn’t mean schools will be limited to doling out broccoli and brussels sprouts. Snacks that still make the grade include granola bars, low-fat tortilla chips, fruit cups, and 100 percent fruit juice.

High school students can buy diet versions of soda, sports drinks, and iced tea.

But say good-bye to some beloved school standbys, such as doughy pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, and those little ice cream cups with their own spoons.

Some may survive in low-fat or whole wheat versions. The idea is to weed out junk food and replace it with something with nutritional merit.

The bottom line, said Ms. Wootan: “There has to be some food in the food.”

Many U.S. children eat more than half of their daily calories at school.

The regulations will cover about 50 million children attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of the federal school lunch program.

The standards only apply to foods and beverages sold on school campuses during the day, and limit vending machine snacks to a maximum of 200 calories per item — less than many regular-sized candy bars.

“It’s supporting what moms and dads are doing all across the United States,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

USDA gave the public 60 days to comment after it released its proposals in February.

The final guidelines, while mostly unchanged, have incorporated a stricter calorie limit on beverages in high schools. Twelve-ounce drinks cannot exceed 60 calories, less than the calorie count of most sodas.

And the portion sizes vary between age groups. Younger students will be able to buy water, 100 percent juice, and low-fat and fat-free milk in 8-ounce servings, while high school students can also purchase 20-ounce calorie-free drinks.

Food sold at after-school activities, such as sporting events, is not subject to the regulations.

By improving the choices available to U.S. students outside of breakfast and lunch, officials hope to make a dent in childhood obesity in a nation where one-third of those under age 18 are considered overweight or obese.

All foods sold must meet competitive nutrient standards, meaning they must have fruits, vegetables, dairy, or protein in them, or contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber.

“This is an historic nutrition policy that will do a lot to improve children’s diets and address high rates of childhood obesity,” Ms. Wootan said.

But Sandra Ford, head of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service workers in school districts nationwide, said the “complex regulations” could burden schools already working to offer healthier menus.

Many schools are still working to push though earlier regulations overhauling school meals like breakfast and lunch.

Debra Warren, Washington Local Schools’ food service director, said the preliminary guidelines were shared two years ago and have stayed mostly the same since then. The district began implementing those guidelines then, so it largely complies with the new rules.

Some of the changes include a switch to baked chips instead of regular potato chips, and a change to whole-grain toaster pastries in vending machines. Because of their high sodium content, the district no longer sells pickles.

The district analyzes the nutritional value of all its snacks with computer software to ensure they meet federal guidelines.