Snacks Get Healthier, ‘Smarter’ at AAPS

AAPS makes plans to adopt new USDA ‘Smart Snacks’ standards

Lunchtime at Eberwhite Elementary, December 2012.
Lunchtime at Eberwhite Elementary, December 2012.

Jan. 29, 2014

By Tara Cavanaugh

A few years ago, school lunches got a makeover thanks to the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Now, school snacks are getting an update.

The Act is meant to improve the diet and overall health of American children and ensure children from all income levels adopt healthful eating habits that will enable them to live productive lives.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools is making plans to adopt the USDA’s standards for snacks sold in schools and will roll them out in Fall 2014.

“Overall, what parents need to know is that if your child buys a lunch at school, it will be a healthy meal, and that includes a la carte options and items from school fundraisers,” said Jenna Bacolor, the executive director of Rec&Ed and the chair of the AAPS Wellness Policy Committee.

“It also means that your child’s club or team can still do out-of-school fundraising involving food, and that you can still buy a pop and a hotdog a football games.”

The standards don’t apply to food that children bring to school from home. Read on to learn about the new food and beverage standards for items sold in schools, how the standards vary by grade level and how fundraisers will be affected.

What are the new standards?

The new standards are meant to limit junk food and offer healthier snacking options for children. The standards limit fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium in snacks and promote products with whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein as their main ingredients.

Standards for snacks sold in school:

-Snacks must have a first ingredient that is whole-grain rich, or that is a fruit, vegetable, dairy, protein product; or the first ingredient must contain 10 percent daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber; or the food must be a combination food that contains at least 1/4 cup of fruit and/or vegetable.

-Snacks must also meet calorie, sodium, fat and sugar requirements. Foods sold can have up to 350 calories and up to 480 mg of sodium. Fat is limited: an item can have up to 35 percent of its calories come from fat and less than 10 percent come from saturated fat. Sugar is also limited: up to 35 percent of a food’s total weight can be sugar.

-Accompaniments such as cream cheese and salad dressing must also be included in the nutrient profile.

Standards for beverages sold in school:

-Plain water, low or nonfat milk, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice are acceptable at all grade levels.

-Container sizes vary according to elementary, middle or high school level. Elementary schools can sell up to 8 ounces of the above beverages; middle and high schools can sell up to 12 ounces for lower-calorie beverages and 20 ounces for calorie-free beverages.

-High school students have additional no-calorie and lower-calorie options. Caffeinated beverages are still an option for high school students.

When do the standards apply?

The standards apply to all foods sold outside the school meal programs, on the school campus, and at any time during the school day (from the midnight before to 30 minutes after the school day).

The USDA is urging school districts to prepare for implementation starting July 1.

How will the standards affect fundraisers and school stores?

All foods that meet the standards may be sold during school hours. This includes at school stores, before school and at lunchtime fundraisers.

The standards don’t apply to items sold during non-school hours, on weekends or at off-campus fundraising events. This means that boosters can still sell items such as hot dogs and soda at athletic events. Also, fundraiser foods that aren’t intended for consumption in school, such as popcorn or cookie dough, are still allowed to be sold.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows states to determine a number of school-sponsored fundraisers to be exempted from the standards. The Michigan Department of Education is working on determining how many fundraisers will be exempted.

What kinds of changes will students see in cafeterias starting Fall 2014?

Chartwells, the company that oversees food cooked and sold in AAPS cafeterias, is developing a new a la carte program, said Chartwells Director Heather Holland. A team of nutrition, culinary and marketing experts has already begun the transition and will continue to introduce new options and replace items that do not meet the guidelines by July 1.

Chartwells already complies with all of the beverage requirements. “And we have already transitioned many products over the past couple of years,” Holland said, “so the impact these new regulations will have on the AAPS food service program are minimal.”

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