Will Apples Replace Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? USDA Issues New School Rules

No more Red Hot Cheetos, Doritos or Coca Cola at school?

That’s right: last year the Obama administration made the first changes to the $11 billion government-subsidized school meal program in over 30 years, adding more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches, as well as reducing the amount of sugar, salt and fat.

Now the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has moved on to the issue of snack foods and has released new nutritional guidelines regarding what snacks can be offered at US public schools.

Nutritionists say that school vending machines stocked with potato chips, cookies and sugary soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one in every five children is obese.

With students eating 19 to 50 percent of their daily food at school, the administration says it wants to ensure that what they eat contributes to good health, rather than contributing to their expanding waistlines.

The new rules are a component of Michelle Obama’s campaign, Let’s Move! The program aims to reduce the number of overweight children through exercise and better nutrition. The junk food industry has vehemently opposed these restrictions, since $2.3 billion worth of snack foods and beverages are sold annually in US schools – which why it’s important to get the new rules in place.

Here’s a sample of the proposal highlights, from the  USDA’s press release:

More of the foods we should encourage. Promoting availability of healthy snack foods with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables or protein foods as their main ingredients.

Less of the foods we should avoid. Ensuring that snack food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.

Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as beverage portion size and caffeine content.

Flexibility for important traditions. Preserving 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.

Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. Ensuring 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.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the rules before they are finalized for the 2014-15 school year. If you feel strongly about this issue, go to  www.fns.usda.gov/cga/020113-snacks.pdf, where you can read the new guidelines in their entirety. You can address your comments to www.regulations.gov.

Previous efforts  to restrict the food that schoolchildren eat outside the lunchroom have met resistance not only from the snack-food industry, but also from some schools. They worry that a ban on the selling of candy, for example, as part of fund-raisers that help pay for sports, band uniforms and field trips, could prove disastrous.

Around the country, the picture is extremely varied: about half of US states have adopted restrictions on what can be sold in vending machines, cafeterias, school stores and snack bars. Most states restrict access to competitive foods when school meals are being served. Five states restrict access to vending machines all day long.

California is one of several states that has targeted junk food in schools. A decade ago it became the first state to ban the sale of soft drinks in grade schools, and later in high schools. Since 2007, the state has also enforced nutrition standards for “competitive foods” in schools, the snacks and foods that are not included in meal plans but that students can get on school grounds.

At the California high school where I teach, there are still vending machines, but they no longer contain sodas; instead students can grab water or flavored water, or a healthy(ish) snack like a granola bar.

On the other hand, I see many students still enjoying their Cheetos or chocolate puddings, brought from home. So this federal effort won’t eliminate all junk food in schools, but it is an important step forward.

I should add that the idea of snack food is particularly American, although it may be catching on in other parts of the world. When I taught in France, for example, there were no vending machines, nor any other kind of snacks. Meals happened at specific times, and those were the only times that we ate.


Related Care2 Coverage

War On Obesity Hits School Vending Machines

Michelle Obama Helps Debut Healthier School Lunches

88% Of High School Students Have Access To Sugary Drinks


Photo Credit: thinkstock


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Somehow I managed to get through school without Cheetos, soda, etc. and survive. We drank milk and ate real food. Schools should be teaching good eating habits too.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Somehow I managed to get through school without Cheetos, sodas, etc. and lived through it. We had milk to drink and real food to eat.

Leigh EVERETT5 years ago

and sometimes a snack before bed (not always true)

But regardless of this constant eating the French seem to be in good health which means they know something about nutrition (with the exception of breakfast an their goûter).

Back up Obama on this one folks, it's for a good cause, your health and I wish you all good luck.

Leigh EVERETT5 years ago

This is a great step forward and should be encouraged. The schools who disagree don't seem to get it. Why can't other snacks be sold at these events instead of candy? Anyway, it WAS mentioned that there would be "Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply" so why can't they make fund-raising one of those exceptions? As long as there is not a fund-raising event EVERY day.

I disagree however that snacking is specifically American (it is certainly WORSE in America than in other countries) as I have been in quite a few countries and see it everywhere.
I find the French reference strange as I live in France (for the past 16 years) and while it is true that there are no vending machines in schools, the French have a traditional "gouter" around four or five o'clock which consists of sugary snacks. The adults even have a traditional "casse-croûte" at ten in the morning which consists of cured meats and bread (which comes as no surprise as they must be hungry at this time seeing as their breakfast is lacking in nutrition). So to say that they only eat at specific meal times is alien to me (I see them eating almost all the time). For example:

Before breakfast when they go and buy bread, they snack on it on the way home.

Breakfast (between 6 and 8 o'clock)

Casse-croûte (around 10 o'clock)

Lunch (between 12 and 2 o'clock)

Goûter (between 4 and 5 o'clock)

Dinner (around 7 o'clock)

and sometimes a snack before bed (not alw

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Where are parents?

Lika S.
Lika P5 years ago

It's a good step, yes. but, as the article states, there is a cultural thing going too. So many of the cafeteria foods are so American, it's not funny. What about adding some other healthy yet exotic foods that will help put more on the menu, such as Indian foods or at least more authentic Mexican and Asian foods?

rene davis
irene davis5 years ago

thank you.

Melissa L.
Melissa L5 years ago

About time!

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider5 years ago

Great step forward :-)

Berny p.
berny p5 years ago

At least it is a start. Well done