WASHINGTON — Kids, your days of blowing off those healthier school lunches and filling up on cookies from the vending machine are numbered. The government is onto you.
For the first time, the Agriculture Department is telling schools what sorts of snacks they can sell. The new restrictions announced Thursday fill a gap in nutrition rules that allowed many students to load up on fat, sugar and salt despite the existing guidelines for healthy meals.
"Parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who lobbied for the new rules, which take effect for the 2014-15 school year.
The federal rules put calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits on almost everything sold during the day at 100,000 schools, expanding on the previous rules for meals. The Agriculture Department sets nutritional standards for schools that receive federal funds to help pay for lunches, and that covers nearly every public school and about half of private ones.
That doesn't mean schools will be limited to doling out broccoli and brussels sprouts. Snacks that still make the grade include granola bars, low-fat tortilla chips, fruit cups and 100 percent fruit juice. And high school students can buy diet versions of soda, sports drinks and iced tea.
The bottom line, says Wootan: "There has to be some food in the food."