At the urging of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today issued its ruling to eliminate the sale of all junk food in schools, an effort that Senator Gillibrand led as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act to reform child nutrition standards that was signed into law in 2010.
"If our children are going to succeed and meet their full potential in the classroom, they need access to healthy meals in the lunchroom," said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a leading voice for improving child nutrition. "Eliminating junk food from schools and offering healthier snacks is the right thing to do to keep our children healthy, and on a path to success."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Schools Act that Senator Gillibrand fought hard to pass requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, including beyond the federally-supported school meals programs. The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule is the first step in the process to create national standards.
The USDA's new ruling draws on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.
The USDA's proposal includes:
Promotes the availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.
Ensures snack food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
Allows variation by age group for factors such as beverage portion size and caffeine content.
Preserves the ability for parents to send in bagged lunches of their choosing or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like occasional fundraisers and bake sales.
Ensures that standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at an afterschool sporting event or other activity will not be subject to these requirements.
Allows significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.
The standards will take effect at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published to ensure that schools and vendors have adequate time to adapt.