New Smart Snack guidelines on tap for school cafeterias

COVINGTON -- Students may soon no longer be able to purchase chips and candy bars at school due to new nutrition standards, but parents have a few more months to weigh in with their opinions.

At the end of June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released highlights of the new "Smart Snacks in School" standards that are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all food sold in schools.

"These guidelines will impact all foods and beverages sold during the school day on the school campus," said Brittany Bingeman, school nutrition program wellness coordinator for the Newton County School System.

Bingeman said the Smart Snacks in School standards have not yet been formally adopted and the final guidelines are expected to go into effect during the 2014-15 school year. The comment period for the new regulations is open until Oct. 28.

Just like the new guidelines for school lunches and breakfasts that were implemented in 2012-13, the Smart Snacks in School standards will require that any food or beverage sold in schools in school cafeterias, in vending machines, school stores and at snack bars and during in-school fundraisers must meet the following standards, according to the USDA:

Be a "whole grain-rich" grain product; or

Have as its first ingredient fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein food; or

Be a combination food that contains at least cup fruit and/or vegetable; or

Contain 10 percent of the daily value of one of the nutrients of health concern outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The food items must also meet calorie, fat and sugar content requirements. For instance, snack items must be 200 calories or less. The total fat must be less than 35 percent of overall calories and the sugar limit must be less than 35 percent of the weight from the total sugars in the food.

Bingeman said NCSS has no countywide contract for food vending, but it does have a beverage contract with Coca-Cola for vending machines in the high schools. She said that a representative with Coca-Cola stated that the company already complies with all guidelines from the USDA and the American Beverage Association and will adapt its offerings to fully comply with the new regulations, as well.

With its emphasis on increasing the availability of healthful foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains and decreasing the availability of foods high in sugar, fat and sodium content, Bingeman said she is optimistic about the new standards.

"The changes will hopefully encourage students to make healthier food choices and adopt overall healthier eating habits, which can lead to long-term health benefits," she said.

For more information about the Smart Snacks in School standards, visit www.fns.usda.gov. To comment on the new standards, visit www.regulations.gov and type in the name of the rule, "Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School."