The United States Department of Agriculture announced Friday the public comment period has opened on proposed new standards giving kids options to healthy foods in schools.

"Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools – beyond the federally-supported school meals programs.

The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule, to be published soon in the Federal Register, is the first step in the process to create national standards.

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 factored into the standards.

Here are some of the USDA’s new proposals…

  • 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.
  • Flexibility for state and local communities. Allowing 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.
  • Significant transition period for schools and industry. The standards will not go into effect until 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.

These proposed standards are part of a bi-partisan package of changes passed by Congress in 2010 designed to ensure that students have healthy options in school.

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