At long last the USDA released Interim Final Rules for competitive foods—the snacks and sodas sold from vending machines and carts outside of federally supported school lunches. They were worth the wait. The new  standards are tough and will change the food landscape in schools much for the better.  They are summarized in a handy flier.  The new rules require:

  • Snacks to be rich in whole grains, have real food as a first ingredient, and provide nutritional value.
  • Drinking water to be available to all students at no cost.
  • Other drinks to contain no more than 40 calories per 8 fl oz, or 60 calories per 12 fl oz.  This excludes all regular sodas, even Gatorade.

USDA summarizes the changes in its Smart Snacks in School Infographic:                                                     Competitive foods have long been a bone of contention.  They compete for kids’ food money with the school meals.  Although USDA regulates where and when they can be sold, schools routinely violate such rules.  I’ve seen for myself  how many schools allow vending machines to be open during lunch periods. The USDA issued nutrition standards for school meals early in 2012, but it’s taken this long to issue the ones for competitive foods, no doubt because of the expected uproar from food and drink producers whose products will now be excluded. To back up the rules, the USDA has produced a vast array of materials and documents. One web page is devoted to a toolkit of materials for “the healthier school day.” A separate web page links to all of the legislative and other documents, videos, issue briefs, Q and A’s, statement from First Lady Michele Obama, and other items of technical assistance to the new “smart snacks in schools” program and rules. Also see:

But note: the rule is “interim” because the 120-day comment period is now open. USDA can still make plenty of changes. Schools will have a year to implement the final standards. Watch the lobbying begin. You think there won’t be opposition?  Think again. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a report recommending that USDA ease off on restricting the amount of meat and grains allowed in the school meal standards that went into effect this year.  Apparently, USDA agrees. GAO reports are usually requested by members of Congress and this one is no exception.  Guess which party these particular requesters belong to, and who funds their election campaigns. USDA deserves much applause and support for its courage in issuing rules for competitive foods that might actually help kids stay healthier. This article originally appeared on Food Politics July 1, 2013.

  • Crazy Horse Ranch

    More government intrusion in our lives. First, hard working tax payers provide for the lazy, then gun control, Obamacare, and now they dictate what we can and cannot eat. Oh, and don’t forget undue surveillance by the NSA. Finally, an Administration beyond reproach! Kinda sounds like the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic doesn’t it.

    • colleenthomas

      As a parent and someone who was around when the Soviet Union was
      actually the USSR, you are way off here! Parents have been fighting for
      years to actually have better control of what is offered at schools and
      this gives us that opportunity. If you lived in the USSR during that
      time and said something like this, you would likely disappear! You
      should be grateful that you have the opportunity and freedom to even say
      what you did! Think what you will, but this is major progress towards
      reversing the obesity rates, especially for children!

  • more regulation for me please

    Marion Nestle never saw a restrictive law she didn’t like. It must irk her to think about all the time she spent “educating” only to fail utterly (we all grew obese and diseased on her watch as a public health educator). Heck, just legislate current opinion into force. Autocracy is really the very best alternative to nutritional science, as anyone can plainly see. Food police rock!!

  • Concerned Dietitian

    As a Food & Nutrition Director for a school system, as well as a Dietitian, Chef and mother, I agree with some of this law wholeheartedly. What I have trouble with is instead of making soda and Gatorade “illegal”, they have now allowed schools to sell DIET beverages to kids. I have an issue with this on all levels. I would prefer them to say NO SODA, NO SPORTS DRINKS, but instead the government has bowed to major corporations and have allowed schools to continue to fill children with chemicals while they fill their pockets with Lobby dollars. I hope one day everyone will understand the benefits of healthy eating and how food is a natural healer, but we continue to send mixed messages to the American people with laws such as this.