Last July, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new standards went into effect for the snacks and drinks schools sell in vending machines, school stores and a la carte lines. These foods tend to be higher in calories and lower in the nutrients kids need than what the main cafeteria line has to offer. These updated standards, called “Smart Snacks in School,” are a great start towards giving our kids the healthy choices they need in school. But that’s not the end of the story. Each state still gets to create policies that can either ensure all kids have “smart snacks” or, in some cases, policies that set kids up for unhealthy habits that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
On December 30, 2014, the New Mexico Public Education Department showed leadership in helping their schools make changes by adopting a state rule to fully align with the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition guidelines. The rules comply with the federal Smart Snacks standards, requiring the food to be primarily whole grains, fruit, vegetable, dairy or a protein. This means they can still purchase chips and crackers from school vending machines, but they will be made with whole grains and baked instead of fried. While some may not notice a difference, nutritionists know that every bite matters and increasing dietary fiber is a key strategy in steering clear of chronic diseases later in life.
Essential to their success, they have staff and training plans in place working directly with schools to implement the new standards and facilitating the movement forward efficiently. Healthy school foods support the academic potential and health of all students by increasing participation in school meals and ensuring food they access in other places on school campuses are healthy.
From packaged carrots to fruit cups, expanding healthy options alongside some tried and true favorites can teach kids lifelong lessons in nutritious choices. In many cases, kids haven’t had these healthy choices before and parents have shown overwhelming support for raising the bar on nutrition in schools. In a national poll, 72 percent of parents favor nutrition standards for school meals and school snacks. New Mexico also provides clear guidance that unhealthy snacks and fundraisers should be a very occasional thing, a consistent message with what is available in the breakfast and lunch programs in schools.
Children may consume a significant proportion of their daily calories – up to 50 percent – at school. For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only meals they eat all day. New Mexico’s new nutrition standards will help ensure that all students have equal access to healthy snacks at school, regardless of their economic status or where they live.
Article submitted by the American Heart Association.
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