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The Government Is on to You': Feds Mandate What Snacks Schools Can Sell for the First Time


"If I want a sugary snack every now and then...I should be able to buy it."

(Photo: Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) -- Kids, your days of blowing off those healthier school lunches and filling up on cookies from the vending machine are numbered. In the words of the Associated Press, "The government is onto you."

For the first time, the Agriculture Department is telling schools what sorts of snacks they can sell. The new restrictions announced Thursday 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.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

"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 lobbied for the new rules.

But that doesn't mean schools will be limited to doling out broccoli and brussels sprouts -- the options are just more limited.

Snacks that still make the grade include granola bars, low-fat tortilla chips, fruit cups and 100 percent fruit juice. High school students can apparently still buy diet versions of soda, sports drinks and iced tea.

But say goodbye to some beloved school standbys like 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 federal snack rules don't take effect until the 2014-15 school year, but there's nothing to stop schools from making changes earlier.

Rachel Snyder, 17, said earlier this year her school in Washington, Ill., stripped its vending machines of sweets. She misses the pretzel-filled M&M's, and thinks she should be able to make her own decisions.

"If I want a sugary snack every now and then," Snyder said, "I should be able to buy it."

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The federal rules put calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits on almost everything sold during the day at 100,000 schools - expanding on the previous rules for meals. The Agriculture Department sets nutritional standards for schools that receive federal funds to help pay for lunches, which covers nearly every public school and about half of private ones.

One oasis of sweetness and fat can remain: the federal government still allows students to bring food from home, whether it be bagged lunch or a birthday cupcake.

The Agriculture Department was required to draw up the rules under a law passed by Congress in 2010, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, as part of the government's effort to combat childhood obesity.

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

Last year's rules making main lunch fare more nutritious faced criticism from some conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the government shouldn't be telling kids what to eat.

One of the biggest changes this time around will be a near-ban on high-calorie sports drinks. Many beverage companies added sports drinks to school vending machines after sodas were pulled in response to criticism from the public health community.

The rule would only allow sales in high schools of sodas and sports drinks that contain 60 calories or less in a 12-ounce serving, banning the highest-calorie versions of those beverages.

Elementary and middle schools will be allowed to sell only water, carbonated water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, and low fat and fat-free milk, including nonfat flavored milks.

At a congressional hearing Thursday, a school nutritionist said schools have had difficulty adjusting to the 2012 changes.

And the healthier foods are expensive, said Sandra Ford, president of the School Nutrition Association and director of food and nutrition services for a school district in Bradenton, Fla. She also predicted that her school district could lose $975,000 a year under the new guidelines because they would have to eliminate many of the popular foods they sell.

But Angela Chieco, a mother from Clifton Park, N.J., sees the guidelines as a good start but says it will take a bigger campaign to wean kids off junk food.

"I try to do less sugar myself," Chieco said. "It's hard to do."


Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.



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