CONYERS -- 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 to the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all food sold in schools.
"In the simplest terms, the USDA has taken the regulations that are already in place for school cafeteria standards and are now applying them to the entire schools," said Peggy Lawrence, school nutrition director for Rockdale County Public Schools.
Lawrence said the Smart Snacks in School standards have not yet been formally adopted and will likely not go into effect until 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 sold in schools in school cafeterias, in vending machines, school stores and at snack bars 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 one-fourth 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.
Lawrence said RCPS has no centralized vending contracts and decisions about vending machines in schools are largely left up to the individual schools' principals. She pointed out that they must adhere to the federal Competitive Foods regulations, which do not allow food from vending machines to be sold during the times that breakfast and lunch are served in the schools' cafeterias. Schools' vending machines also had to be stocked with foods with a minimum nutritional value, according RCPS policy.
"Our principals have had the freedom to decide if they will have vending machines and how they will operate those vending machines," she said. "These standards will put some restrictions on that, but at this point we don't really know how those will impact them."
Lawrence said that while it is still unknown how the new Smart Snacks in School standards will affect individual schools, she does anticipate some minor changes will be made.
"My general opinion is that this will be a good thing to improve the overall health for our students," 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."