The New USDA Competitive Food Rules: What Will They Mean for Our Kids?
|February 11, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Competitive foods, School food|
After last week’s rant, I guess it’s no secret that I’m no fan of junk food in school (with the exception of occasional school parties, which I’m convinced could be just as fun with healthier fare…just sayin’!). But the thought of kids being able to buy highly processed sugary/salty/artery-damaging stuff at school every day? If you ask me, it’s just plain wrong.
I’m not alone on this one. That’s why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come up with new proposed rules regarding food sold in school snack bars, vending machines and à la carte lines. Known as “competitive foods” because they compete with the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program, these meals and snacks frequently include unhealthy options like greasy pizza, fries, chips, cookies, and soda. As of the 2009–2010 school year, about half of all public and private elementary school students had access to competitive foods that included sugary junk, according to a study published last year in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. At middle and high schools, the number is even higher.
Under the new USDA regulations, these competitive foods will get a long-overdue makeover. The rules stipulate the types of foods and beverages (with calorie and fat caps) that can be sold during school hours. In other words, most ice cream, candy and fatty fried foods will be out; fresh fruit, trail mix and nonfat or low-fat yogurt (with no more than 30 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving–whoa!) will be in. In elementary and middle schools, the only drinks allowed will be plain water, plain low-fat milk, plain or flavored nonfat milk or milk alternative, and 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice. High schools also can sell diet drinks under 5 calories, carbonated water, and possibly sports drinks, with no restrictions on caffeine.
To get the full scoop, I recommend reading through the proposed rules yourself. And check out blogger Bettina Siegel’s helpful synopsis on The Lunch Tray.
After reviewing the proposed regs, I do think that they seem like a big step in the right direction. But I fear there still will be lots of room for less-than-healthy snacks to make their way into schools. While baked chips may be a better option than Doritos, they are still junk food. Granola and cereal bars may be viewed as nutritious, but most are infused with sugar and not exactly what I would call wholesome. And sugary yogurts and flavored milks sound like dessert in disguise.
I personally think there should be a stipulation about artificial ingredients and GMOs in the new rules. Another concern that I have is that diet and caffeinated drinks will be available in high schools. Is it really a good idea for teens to be sipping soda, energy and sports drinks containing artificial sweeteners and other sketchy ingredients?
It’s important to note that these rules do not apply to foods offered at bake sales, parties or after-school events, but would give state governments the power to regulate them.
YOU CAN WEIGH IN!
Public comments on the USDA proposal are open for 60 days (well, 56 days now, as it’s been 4 days since the recommendations were published in the Federal Register). If you’re concerned about what foods your child will have access to at school, I highly recommend offering your feedback at Regulations.gov. There are still some issues up for debate (one of which could preclude the inclusion of sports drinks at the high school level.). I tried to log on and submit my comments over the weekend only to find that the site down for scheduled maintenance until Monday at 6 p.m. Eastern. I’ll be trying again tonight!
How do you feel about the USDA’s proposed competitive food regulations? Do you plan on giving feedback? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!