WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture announced that its “Smart snacks in school” rule will go into effect during the 2013-14 school year. Proposed this past February, the final rule affects foods and beverages offered in schools that are outside the purview of the National School Lunch Program.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register this week, according to the USDA. The new rules will require healthier foods with more whole grains, less fat, vegetables and leaner protein to be made available to students throughout the school day. The agency called the new standards “targeted” and noted that they allow variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.

Both schools and food and beverage companies will have the entire 2013-14 school year to make the necessary changes to comply with the new rule, and the agency said it will offer training and technical assistance during the implementation process. The final rules will also only apply to foods sold on campus during the school day. Foods sold at after school events will not be subject to the new rules.

Under the USDA’s interim final rule, an allowable food product under the Smart Snack guidelines must be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight or have as the first ingredient a whole grain or one of the non-grain major food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein foods, which may include meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts or seeds. Or, according to the USDA, an allowable food must contain one-quarter of a cup of fruit or vegetable.

For the period through June 30, 2016, an allowable food must contain 10 percent of the daily value of a nutrient of public health concern based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This may include such nutrients as calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber. Effective July 1, 2016, the USDA said the criteria will be obsolete and may not be used to qualify as a competitive food under the new rules.
Fresh, canned, and frozen fruits or vegetables with no added ingredients except water, or in the case of fruit, packed in 100 percent juice, extra light, or light syrup are exempt from the interim final rule’s nutrient standards. Canned vegetables that contain a small amount of sugar for processing purposes are also exempt.

Allowable foods must contain 35 percent or less of total calories from fat per item as packaged or served.
Exemptions to the total fat standard are granted for reduced-fat cheese and part-skim mozzarella cheese, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, products consisting of only dried fruit with nuts and/or seeds with no added nutritive sweeteners or fat, and seafood with no added fat, according to the USDA.

Smart snack foods must contain no more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat per item as packaged or served. Exemptions to the saturated fat standard are granted for reduced-fat cheese and part skim mozzarella cheese, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, and products consisting of only dried fruit with nuts and/or seeds with no added nutritive sweeteners or fat.

Sodium content in snacks is limited to 230 mg per item as packaged or served. On July 1, 2016, the sodium standard will move to 200 mg per item. Entree items must have no more than 480 mg of sodium per item, unless they meet the exemption for National School Lunch Program entree items.

Total sugar must be no more than 35 percent by weight. Exemptions to the sugar standard are provided for dried whole fruits or vegetables; dried whole fruit or vegetable pieces; dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners; and dried fruits with nutritive sweeteners that are required for processing and/or palatability purposes.

Snack items and side dishes served à la carte must have no more than 200 calories per item as packaged or served, including accompaniments such as butter, cream cheese, salad dressing, etc. Entree items sold à la carte must contain no more than 350 calories including accompaniments, unless they meet the exemption for National School Lunch Program entree items.

Allowable beverages for elementary students are limited to plain water (carbonated or non-carbonated), unflavored low-fat milk and non-fat milk, both plain and flavored, nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives, and full strength fruit or vegetable juices and full strength fruit and vegetable juice diluted with water or carbonated water. All beverages must be no more than 8 ounces with the exception of water, which is unlimited.

Allowable beverages for middle school students are limited to plain water, unflavored low-fat milk and non-fat milk, both flavored and unflavored, nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives, and full strength fruit or vegetable juice and full strength fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water or carbonated water. All beverages must be no more than 12 ounces, with the exception of water.

Elementary and middle school foods and beverages must be caffeine free with the exception of naturally occurring trace amounts.

Allowable beverages for high school students are limited to plain water, unflavored low-fat milk and flavored or unflavored non-fat milk, nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives, and full strength fruit or vegetable juice and full strength fruit and vegetable juice diluted with water or carbonated water. Milk and milk equivalent alternatives and fruit or vegetable juice must be no more than 12 ounces.

Also allowed in high schools are calorie-free, flavored and/or carbonated water and other calorie-free beverages that comply with the Food and Drug Administration requirement of less than five calories per 8-oz serving (or less than or equal to 10 calories per 20-oz), in no more than 20-oz servings. Beverages of up to 40 calories per 8-oz serving (or 60 calories per 12-oz serving) in no more than 12-oz servings are also allowed. There is no ounce restriction on plain water (carbonated or non-carbonated). Beverages containing caffeine are also permitted. Allowable beverages are available in the food service area and elsewhere without restriction.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”