Snack options at Merced City School District campuses are getting progressively healthier.
Terri Soares, director of the district’s Department of School Nutrition Services, confirmed new U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations taking effect next month limit fat, sugar and sodium in student snacks. She said the state Legislature previously passed legislation mandating a healthier approach.
“I’m reading a few more labels,” Soares said. “California is way ahead of the rest of the United States. The kids are getting acclimated to better food choices.”
New USDA Smart Snacks in School regulations stipulate flavored water is now out, but the new rules won’t catch the district off guard, she said. Still, she acknowledges it will be difficult to change children’s tastes for salt and sugar, which are learned behaviors.
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Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said the new regulations will require the school district to strike a balance. A former principal, he said the new rules will affect what snacks can be sold as part of student body fundraising activities.
“If it tastes bad, ... (students) won’t buy it even if it’s healthier,” Spicer said. “If we don’t provide snacks, kids will provide their own snacks from home and their choices will be worse.”
Soares said schools can only offer water, juice and milk now. She said she will research sodium levels of snacks now offered, but that they are reasonable and not high. School snacks’ sodium levels are low compared to a 24-hour convenience store or corner grocery store.
Bill Dunlavy, the Merced Union High School District’s nutrition services director, likes the concept of Smart Snacks in Schools.
He said future snacks will include more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. New regulations will prohibit student body offices from selling non-approved snacks for fundraising drives.
Smart Snacks in School regulations create national nutrition standards that limit fat, sugar and sodium in foods and beverages sold to students as snacks. These standards do not affect the foods and beverages sold through the federally reimbursable meal program, brought from home, given at classroom parties or as rewards or sold after school hours.
The new national rules only affect those schools that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The changes are part of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
California has led the nation in its work to make schools healthier environments, including banning soda sales. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson started his Team California for Healthy Kids initiative to encourage children to eat nutritious meals, be physically active, and drink plenty of water in and out of school. Research shows healthy children learn better and are more likely to graduate and go to college.