USDA Thursday released new guidelines for school snacking by creating calorie limits and eliminating some snacks and beverages from school vending machines.
The latest plan is a part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all food sold in schools. It includes offering food items that contain less fat, sugar and sodium and that don't exceed 200 calories.
The program will allow a year for implementation and compliance, likely taking full effect for the 2014-2015 school year, Vilsack said.
The new rules, however, do not place limitations on what snacks parents can provide their children through made-at-home meals, nor does it limit treats for activities like bake sales and birthday parties. Foods sold at after school events are also not subject to the requirements.
Additionally, the plan only establishes minimum requirements for schools, meaning states and schools with stronger standards may continue to implement their programs if they choose.
"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," Vilsack said.
Snack food companies are expected to comply with the new rules, Vilsack said during a conference call, noting that most companies have been aware this was coming.
"The (snack industry) has been very aggressive recently in trying to reduce the number of calories in drinks and in snacks, and trying to figure out ways to integrate more whole grains, more low-fat dairy, more opportunities for fruits and vegetables,"
United Fresh Produce Association, whose producer-members stand to gain from the proposal, said it will "drive opportunities for increased produce sales to schools, especially for fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in convenient single servings."
While advocates laud the decision, some say the proposal will leave kids feeling less satisfied and result in more snacking. Still other opponents argue the proposal doesn't go far enough because it permits caffeinated beverages for high school students.
But Vilsack disagrees. "It's going to lead to less obesity and its going to lead to fewer healthcare costs," he said.
USDA said it considered more than 250,000 comments to the proposal before releasing a final plan.
Click here to learn more about the "Smart Snacking" plan.