New USDA snack standards still not strict enough for some Montgomery parents

June 27, 2013

Sugary sodas and donuts will get the boot from school cafeterias under new snack standards the USDA released Thursday, but the guidelines still aren’t strict enough for some Montgomery County parents.

The “Smart Snacks in School” Standards are aimed at dumping junk food from cafeterias and school vending machines to provide students with healthier food options. The regulations limit the amount of fat, sugar and sodium in foods for school snacks and drinks.

Karen Devitt, co-founder of Real Food for Kids — Montgomery, said the guidelines are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough.

Devitt said she and other parents with “Real Food for Kids” hope to work with Montgomery County schools officials to develop snack guidelines that go even further at a local level.

The USDA guidelines still allow artificially flavored milk in elementary and middle schools and caffeinated beverages in high schools, which parents like Devitt oppose. Members of Real Food for Kids are also worried about artificial dyes and preservatives allowed in school foods.

“It’s a good direction for them [the USDA],” Devitt said. “We are just hoping we can do something more stringent at the local level in time.”

Montgomery and other local school systems already have similar or stricter guidelines. Montgomery Division of Food and Nutrition Services Director Marla R. Caplon said she doesn’t expect the new regulations toaffect the district dramatically.

“I’m really proud the guidelines are similar to what we have in place,” Caplon said. “It says volumes.”

Caplon said with the allowance of caffeine in high schools, she would consider giving students the chance to buy coffee on campus. Energy drinks, however, would be off limits.

While some school systems have healthy snack standards in place, the new rule from the USDA will allow for consistency across the country, proponents of the standards say.

“The USDA did a great job between providing guidelines for what nutrition is best for kids and what schools tell us is doable,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s a really solid rule that school can impact and benefit children’s heath.”

About one-third of the nation’s children are either overweight or obese.

Schools have until the 2014-15 school year to put the new standards in place. The guidelines will allow students to choose from snack options that include more fruit, vegetables and whole-grains. Acceptable snacks under the new guidelines include peanuts, light popcorn, granola bars and fruit cups with 100 percent juice.

The USDA guidelines require snack foods to contain no more than 200 calories a serving, with no more than 35 percent of the weight of the food coming from sugar. It also limits the amount of calories in sweetened beverages for high school students from a maximum of 100 calories to 60 calories. For more details on the rules, go here and here.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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