Schools Must Drop Junk Food or Lose Federal Meal Funding

Monday, 14 Apr 2014 10:37 AM

By Joe Battaglia

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The days of plunking quarters into a school cafeteria vending machine for some salty potato chips or a soda at lunch will soon be a thing of the past.

Beginning this summer, schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs will be banned from selling snack variety junk food. Penalties for noncompliance include hefty fines and loss of funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School initiative goes into effect nationwide on July 1 and will force the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program to strictly follow amendments to the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010.

Those changes mean that by rule traditional vending machines, a la carte lunch items, and even bake sale fundraisers are forbidden in schools participating in government-subsidized meal programs. In addition, foods sold in schools must meet new nutritional guidelines and limitations.

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Among the key standards required, according to the USDA's 54-page guidelines:

• Ingredients must be fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein rich, or whole grain rich.
• Snacks and side dishes must contain no more than 200 calories.
• A la carte entrees must contain no more than 350 calories or 250mg of sodium.
• Foods must contain less than 35 percent sugar and 35 percent calories by weight.

Acceptable beverages, according to the program, include water, low-fat, fat-free, or soy milk, and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices. Caffeine and low-calorie carbonated drinks are permitted in high schools only.

Other than water, beverage sizes must be limited to 8 ounces in elementary schools and 12 ounces in middle schools. Caffeinated drinks sold in high schools have a 20-ounce container limit.

Although these new regulations will be mandatory for the next school year, some districts have gotten a jump start on the healthier initiative. In Allegheny County, Pa., the Quaker Valley school district installed Fresh Healthy Vending machines in February.

Jennifer Reiser, Quaker Valley's director of food services, told Trib Total Media that her district made the early changes because "We were worried [about what would happen] when the guidelines went into effect." She added of the program, "So far, I think it's going pretty well."

Elsewhere, parents are concerned that children accustomed to the less healthy options currently offered will simply not consume the healthier product next year.

Vicki Masters, a parent in Plainfield, Ind., told WXIN-TV, "I like the way it's being done [now] because they have fast food one day a week, and they have a lot of choice. They have things that they actually will eat. They do get food in them to get through their day. There are things they just won’t eat. They’d rather not eat than eat something they don’t like."

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