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USDA proposes new healthy school snacks rule

POSTED February 19, 2013 11:51 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been on a mission to make school lunches healthier for students across the country. With a new proposal, the USDA is now targeting school snacks.

The “Smart Snacks in School” proposed rule will limit snack calories to approximately 200 per portion or less. Under the proposal, plain low fat milk, plain, and flavored fat-free milk must be available for up to 8 ounces for elementary students and 12 ounces for middle schools and high schools.

"Parents and teachers work hard to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, and these efforts should be supported when kids walk through the schoolhouse door," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success. Providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will complement the gains made with the new, healthy standards for school breakfast and lunch so the healthy choice is the easy choice for our kids."

Healthy food choices aren't a new thing in California or Turlock schools. Turlock Unified School District Director of Child Nutrition Scott Soiseth said that California is already the leader of serving great products to their children, and believes that it is unfortunate that students have to wait approximately two years before the act will be fully implemented throughout the country.

“We are so far ahead of these competitive rules. We’ve had healthy snacks for about four years now. For the dairy, we buy locally. All we serve is water and milk. We’ve served a lot of fresh products. Our competitive rules in the Turlock schools are stricter than the guidelines. Our wellness policy is very strong and restrictive on unhealthy snacks,” Soiseth said.

The new snack rule is expected to not only offer even more healthier food choices for students, but also help local dairies.

“We applaud USDA for highlighting the importance of dairy in children’s diets and taking the necessary steps to help kids meet the dietary recommendations for milk and dairy productions,” said International Dairy Foods Association President and CEO Connie Tipton. “The proposed rule would make low-fat and fat-free milk available in a variety of locations, not just the school lunch line.”

Soiseth believes that California’s strong roots to agriculture has helped shaped residents' dietary choices, and hopes that sales in agriculture will rise based on the nation's need to supply children healthy meals.

“We try to buy as much local product as we can,” Soiseth said. “We want to support our local economy and it is very important. We want to be local and support the farmers and dairymen.”

Due to last year’s drought, which forced struggling farmers to cope with skyrocketing feed costs, many dairies throughout the Central Valley were forced to close their operations. But Soiseth is hopeful that with the new onslaught of regulations, milk production will be on the rise at a higher demand.

“Once we get the students back to drinking milk instead of sports drinks, I would expect to see an increase as the other selections go away. Turlock schools were ahead of the curb. I was as disappointed that other schools were not as restrictive as what we are doing. We are in good shape serving our kids healthy, local products.”

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