Students looking for cream-filled cookies, fruit-flavored candy and soft drinks likely won’t find them in school vending machines and snack counters by this time next year.
Instead, they’ll find granola bars, fruit cups and calorie-free flavored water.
Wyoming schools are preparing for changes in federal rules that will replace snacks high in fat, sugar and salt with food higher in nutrients.
The rules will apply to food and beverages sold on campuses during school hours, said Tamra Jackson, nutrition programs supervisor at the Wyoming Department of Education. The changes will affect vending machines, snack bars and “a la carte” meal items not part of the school lunch program.
“Basically, it’s taking empty calories out and replacing the foods that would be sold with things that would be healthful, nutritionally,” Jackson said.
The rules are not yet finalized, and training for school districts will begin once there are, likely in early 2014, Jackson said. The rules are in a second and final round of public comment, so some details could change before they’re finalized.
The full rules and comment form are available at http://1.usa.gov/1airW8T.
The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards will begin in July 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2010, federal law changed the rules for food offered in schools. New lunch standards began last year, and new breakfast standards start this school year.
New snack standards include replacing foods high in fat, sugar and sodium with more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables and leaner protein.
The rules won’t apply to food sold at after-school activities and sporting events or to occasional bake sales and fundraisers, according to the release. Homemade treats will still be allowed for school parties.
Natrona County High School incoming senior Brandy Harshfield wrinkled her nose at the mention of fruit cups and granola bars replacing her favorite snacks, chocolate and Mountain Dew.
“No one will buy it, especially in high school,” Harshfield said Wednesday in the Natrona County School District’s summer school cafeteria at Centennial Junior High School. Her breakfast and after-school snacks often come from vending machines, she said.
Incoming seventh-grader Ashley Beavers said she’d rather buy fruit cups than candy. She has bought chips and gummy candy from her school store in elementary school, she said. While she’d usually prefer to buy healthier options, she believes most of her classmates would prefer snacks with more sugar, salt and fat.
Ashley’s mother, Amanda Beavers, said she thinks it’s good to have more nutritious options available.
“I don’t think it needs to be a mandate,” said Steve Mogen, another parent in the Natrona County School District. “I agree with healthier eating, but I think it needs to be a person’s own decision and the influence of their parents.”
Natrona County High School outgoing senior Earl Nation said he’s not opposed to healthier food, but said he hopes it won’t cost more. He believes students are more likely to buy a 75-cent can of soda than a healthier option if it costs more, he said.
Natrona County High School math teacher Marla Switzer said she believes many students will buy healthier options. But she doesn’t predict it will make a major difference in students’ health overall because many will likely bring their own snacks if they don’t like what’s being offered.
Melissa Bardsley is a registered dietitian who is licensed in Wyoming and works as a state specialist for food and nutrition at University of Wyoming. She said snacks are important to keep students going between meals.
“For any kid, a combination of carbohydrates with a lean protein source is a good combination,” Bardsley said. “It keeps them alert and gives them a little but of energy,” she said.
Consuming soda and candy made of simple sugars can cause a short burst of energy but also a “crash” resulting in decreased alertness, Bardsley said.
The options such as granola bars and light popcorn suggested in the USDA website as alternatives to commonly sold snacks are better options than candy, soda and donuts, Bardsley said. But fresh fruit would be even better, she added.
Mary Tvedt is manager of the Diabetes Care Center at Wyoming Medical Center, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and a licensed dietitian in Wyoming.
She said making better snacks available is better, but children still need more fare such as vegetables and fiber in their diets. A fruit cup is a good option, because it has fiber, she said. A granola bar is lower in fat and sugar than cookies, but it also has more carbohydrates than some children need, she said.
Some Wyoming school districts are reviewing the rules and preparing for changes they anticipate their schools will need to make.
In Laramie County School District 1, Shannon Thompson-Emslie is the program administrator for nutrition services. She’s met with school principals to prepare them for the changes and to offer help with choosing snack fare for school stores and vending machines.
“It will require a lot of adjustments,” Thompson-Emslie said.
Natrona County School District Food Service Director Mike Pyska doesn’t predict major changes because the district’s rules already address food sold in schools.
NCSD secondary students can buy additional food in cafeterias, but they’re already limited to choices that meet the district’s strict regulations, Pyska said.
Dean Morgan Junior High Principal Walt Wilcox said that because of the district policy, the vending machines at his school sell flavored water rather than soda. The school’s vending machines also have timers, Wilcox said, so they won’t sell sports drinks or food during the school day.
Assistant Superintendent Scott Stults at Sheridan County School District No. 2 said he expects the district will use state guidance this school year as they form a plan to meet the standards by next summer.