Commentary

New School Regs Take Junk Food To The Dumpster

Schools across the country added an experiential subject to their curricula yesterday when the Agriculture Department issued a mandate that “vending machines will have to be stocked with things like whole wheat crackers, granola bars and dried fruits, instead of M&Ms, Cheese Nips and gummy bears” starting in July 2014, Stephanie Strom reports in the New York Times.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declares in a press release. We have seen no statements to the contrary as of early Friday morning, although the Deseret News’ Lois M. Collins seems a tad skeptical of Vilsack’s grasp of reality. 

“Can you picture Junior picking carrot juice over canned pop between classes? Tom Vilsack can,” she writes in her lede. The point of the new regulations, of course, is to eliminate such dilemmas in the first place. But that’s considered nannystateism in some quarters.

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“Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska, tweeted his opposition using the hashtag ‘nannystate’ and writing ‘RIP tater tots,’” Strom writes while observing that “schools could probably sell Tater Tots, a hash-brown potato nugget made by Ore-Ida, if they were baked instead of fried.”

“By teaching and modeling healthy eating habits to children in school, these rules will encourage better eating habits over a lifetime,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who is widely quoted. “They mean we aren’t teaching nutrition in the classroom and then undercutting what we’re teaching when kids eat in the cafeteria or buy food from the school vending machines.”

In a statement, the CSPI adds, “Under the updated school nutrition guidelines, parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school. Combined with the improvements in school lunches that schools are implementing, all foods and beverages sold in schools will need to meet healthy nutrition standards.”

If you are looking for all the fine print and debate that took place before yesterday’s decree, the USDA last week issued its “Final Summary of Public Comments” for the “Proposed Rule on Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” It broke out “497 unique submissions that contain particularly substantive comments, 1,692 other unique submissions, 245,665 form letters from 104 different mass mail campaigns, and 17 duplicate and non-germane submissions.”

USA Today has put together a chart bidding “goodbye” to such staples as mini-glazed donuts, candy bars, high-fat chips, full calorie soft drinks and chocolate sandwich cookies and saying “hello” to granola bars, peanuts (1 oz.), baked potato chips, no-calorie flavored water and fruit cups.

Under the new standards, reporter Nanci Hellmich points out, competitive foods must “have no more than 200 calories for snacks and side dishes; and no more than 350 calories for entrees that are not part of the school-meal program.” They must also meet requirements for fat, saturated fat and sugar and not contain trans fat. 

"It's certainly a start. It's certainly a good step," Mary Beth Kavanagh, senior instructor in the Department of Nutrition at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine,tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Natalie Villacorta, pointing out thatschool meals are only meant to provide one-third of a child's daily caloric intake.”

"If we fix it at school and we don't fix it at home, we're not going to fix the problem," she says

“The USDA did a great job between providing guidelines for what nutrition is best for kids and what schools tell us is doable,” Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts tells the Washington Post’s Lynh Bui, who also found parents in one suburban D.C. school district who believe they don’t go far enough. 

The “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutritional standards seem refreshingly free of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. The highlights of the regulations, according to the USDA website, are “more of the foods we should encourage” and “less of the foods we should avoid.” At the same time, they aim to “preserve flexibility for time-honored traditions like fundraisers and bake sales, and provide ample transition time for schools.”

So it appears that the PTA table on Back to School Night can still stock Sweet and Salty Toll House Cookies with impunity, you may be happy, or dismayed, to know. That’s 121 calories per serving, FYI.

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