school lunchesThe Agriculture Department announced Thursday that for the first time they are regulating all foods sold in the nation’s 100,000 schools by expanding new fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits, which will mean the end of high calorie sports drinks and candy bars.

The unhealthy snacks will be replaced with diet drinks, granola bars and other healthier items.

School lunch menus will also change: greasy foods will be replaced by items like low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups and yogurt.

“It’s not enough for it to be low in problem nutrients, it also has to provide positive nutritional benefits,” said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who has lobbied for the new rules. “There has to be some food in the food.”

The food industry is on board and has been working with Congress to implement the changes.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required USDA to create nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, not just the federally funded meals programs. The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards will be published this week in the Federal Register, after the USDA gathered almost a quarter-million comments on the proposal.

The guidelines also rely on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and the standards that are already in place in thousands of schools around the country, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings available in stores.

Among the highlights:

  • More whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein.
  • Foods with less fat, sugar and sodium and more nutrients.
  • Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
  • Parents will still be able to send homemade lunches or treats for celebrations like birthday parties, and schools can still hold bake sales to raise money.

What do you think?

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