Few places are more powerful than the school setting when it comes to positively impacting children’s health and childhood obesity.
Improvements to the nutritional criteria for school lunch implemented last year and school breakfast implemented this year have made school meals healthier than they have been for the past 30 years. Healthier options, including fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products, are available to students every day.
However, outside of the federal school meal program, there are often other opportunities for students to purchase foods and beverages to complement meals or serve as snacks
This summer the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released “Smart Snacks in School,” nutrition standards for the foods and beverages sold in a cafeteria la carte lines, vending machines, snack carts and school stores. Schools and districts across the country will have to meet these new standards next school year.
The federal guidelines are minimum standards — states and schools can examine their local landscape and further customize standards to fit their school communities. The Smart Snacks in School standards will further reinforce nutrition education taught in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and at home.
The standards go into effect for the 2014-15 school year, though now is the time to start making small changes to the snacks and beverages sold in your school! Planning ahead is critical to student and staff adoption, product availability, and revenue maintenance. Many schools already offer a variety of healthy snacks that meet the Smart Snacks guidelines and please students’ and staffs’ palates.
The schools in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program that have been successful in making changes report that it took some tim,e and they made incremental changes. During the upcoming school year, it is critical for districts and schools to be proactive in making changes to be ahead of the curve next school year.
Surveying the school campus to find where snacks and beverages are currently being sold to students is a great place to start preparing for next year. Then, schools can involve students and staff in choosing products that meet the new Smart Snacks guidelines.
It is very important to involve others to get input and create buy-in this year, both at the school and district level. Winning the hearts and minds of students, staff and parents may take time, but do not overlook engaging them in the process by:
- Bringing together those responsible for each food venue and vendor contracts.
- Letting students, staff and parents know the nutrition guidelines and helping to identify products that meet the guidelines.
- Engaging students. Let them survey their peers to help identify possible products and conduct taste testing activities.
- Promoting new products through taste testing, contests, limited time offers, and highlighting and featuring new products over time.
Don’t forget — the Alliance team is here to help. Our Healthy Schools Program has onsite and virtual trainings with school health experts, a customer support center, and science-based resources to help schools successfully implement the new standards and find snacks and beverages to suit their school’s needs. Check out our step-by-step process and get started today!