Did School Snacks Just Get Healthier? Not Really

We are thrilled to see that chips, donuts and some sports drinks are to be removed from school vending machines in America, but still disappointed that they will be replaced not by whole foods such as oranges, apples and raw nuts, but rather by more processed foods that do a good job hiding their dangerous side.

Under the new ruling, such foods as dried fruit, trail mix, granola and cereal bars and yogurt are permitted. Unfortunately, these foods, which may seem “healthy,” can still contain a large amount of sugar and additives, making them of little nutritional value.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition plan is the first of its kind in over 30 years. The new standards are meant to tackle the ever-increasing obesity problem among youth in our country.

According to the new rules, which must be in place by July 2014, foods sold in vending machines and snack bars must contain at least 50% whole grains or have a vegetable, fruit, protein or dairy as their first ingredient.

Other food items must contain at least 1/4 cup fruits and/or vegetables. High sugar drinks got the boot, but reduced sugar varieties, 100% fruit and vegetable juice as well as calorie-free flavored water are all permissible under the new snack rules.

While many commend the government for taking a big step in the right direction, others see it as a token to pacify concerned parents and health advocates, and claim that there is still plenty of room for unhealthy and nutrient-void snacks to sneak under the radar.

Kids will be able to bring whatever they want from home. This means that there will likely be plenty of junk in circulation. If they don’t like what they see in the vending machines, they will get it elsewhere.

Processed is Processed

Processed still means processed no matter how you sell it. If it comes in a box, bag, can or container and has more than 5 ingredients, it probably should not be allowed in school, or in your pantry, for that matter.

Furthermore, the fact that a food item has a vegetable listed as its first ingredient has little bearing on the value of that food if you are unable to pronounce the next twenty ingredients.

school lunchesKids need good nutrition for a variety of reasons. Brain development, endurance, muscular and bone growth, focus, behavior and immunity are all dependent on a solid nutritional base.

Unfortunately, the processed food industry has made it so easy to pack lunches full of cute little containers and special snacks that many have forgone nutrition for portability and convenience.

After all – who is cooler, the kid with the Spiderman fruit snacks or the one with baked kale chips in a brown bag? There is much to be said for the way whole, nutritious foods are viewed by our society. They are just not “cool,” for lack of a better word.

There is no substitute for good nutrition, especially for a growing child. Until the time comes when everyone understands the power of food and the value of sound nutrition, it probably won’t make a whole lot of difference what snacks are in the vending machines at school.

-The Alternative Daily


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