Getting smart with school snacks

by Jeff Gelski
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Getting smart with school snacks
Know the rules on exemptions and keep sugar, fat and sodium levels low to qualify items for sale at schools.

KANSAS CITY — Eggs received an exemption on fats, but little else changed in a finalized Smart Snacks in School rule. Fruit’s place on the ingredient list still matters greatly, limits still exist for fat, sugar and sodium, and the type of seasoning might determine whether popcorn qualifies as a Smart Snack.

The Obama administration on July 21 announced four final rules that implement provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The rules are designed to ensure children have access to healthy snacks and that nutrition standards for the foods marketed and served in schools are consistent.

The Smart Snacks in School final rule aligns the nutritional quality of snacks sold to children during the school day with the science-based improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts. The rule seeks to ensure children are offered more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The Smart Snacks in School final rule contained minor changes to an interim rule published in the June 28, 2013, issue of the Federal Register, said Jill Turley, national nutrition adviser for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Portland, Ore.

The final rule added whole eggs to the exemption list for total fat and saturated fat. The limits of 35% of total calories from fat and 10% of total calories from saturated fat no longer apply to whole eggs. Schools may include hard-cooked or hard-boiled eggs as snack or menu items as long as no fat has been added to them, according to the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill.

“They still have to meet all the other nutrient standards, but they are exempt from the total fat and saturated fat nutrient standards,” Ms. Turley said. “A lot of times we’ll see eggs on a la carte lines as maybe part of a grab-and-go basket for lunch or breakfast.”

A large egg has 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids, according to the American Egg Board. Eggs are an excellent source of choline and selenium, and a good source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin.

“The ruling makes available a nutrient-dense food to school nutrition programs, one that can help our student population feel full and satisfied,” said Anne L. Alonzo, president and chief executive officer of the American Egg Board. “Multiple studies demonstrate the satiating effects of protein-rich foods like eggs. So the inclusion of hard-boiled eggs to snacks and a la carte menus can benefit students of all ages.”

The interim rule published in 2013 established nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools other than food sold under the lunch and breakfast programs. Standards had to be met by July 21, 2014.

Exemptions of total fat and saturated fat initially were granted to reduced-fat cheese and part-skim mozzarella cheese, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, products consisting of only dried fruit with nuts and/or seeds with no added nutritive sweeteners or fat, and seafood with no added fat.

Ms. Turley spoke cautiously about nuts and seeds.

“However, if they are coated with chocolate or candy-coated, then those no longer meet that exemption,” she said. “The other thing to keep in mind, we see a lot of snack bars or granola bars out there, and maybe they have a nut or a seed as the first ingredient, and sometimes it gets mistaken that those are exempt from the fat and the saturated fat standard as well. They are not. If it’s not just the nut or the seed, if it’s coated in something, or it’s added into the bar, then (the product) has to meet all of the nutrient standards.”

Total sugar in Smart Snacks may be no more than 35% by weight. Exemptions to the sugar standard are provided for dried whole fruits or vegetables; dried whole fruit or vegetable pieces; dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners; and dried fruits with nutritive sweeteners that are required for processing and/or palatability purposes.

For a puree concentrate or a juice concentrate, if it is not reconstituted with water, it will be considered an added sugar, Ms. Turley said.

For a non-grain product to qualify as a Smart Snack, the first item on the ingredient list must be one of the non-grain major food groups of fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein foods (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seed, etc.); or a non-grain product must be a combination food that contains ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetables.

A grain product, to qualify as a Smart Snack, should contain 50% or more whole grains by weight or have as the first ingredient a whole grain. Whole grain items have improved in such areas as mouthfeel and appearance, Ms. Turley said.

“We’ve seen lots of experimentation with different types of grains: oats, quinoa,” she said.

Sodium requirements changed on July 1 of this year. Smart Snacks now must be 200 mg or less of sodium per item, which is down from 230 mg or less per item.

Popcorn by itself might qualify as a Smart Snack.

“But if you add a lot of butter and salt, that’s when those products tend to not meet the standards,” Ms. Turley said. “We have actually worked with a lot of districts to help them come up with recipes for compliant popcorn, maybe flavoring it with a little Parmesan cheese, or a little bit of taco seasoning, some chili powder, something that’s not going to add a lot of fat or sodium to the product, but they’re still going to enjoy it, and it’s still a fun snack.”

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation offers a Smart Snacks product calculator at foodplanner.healthiergeneration.org/ calculator. It asks a series of questions to determine whether a product meets the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation on June 28 announced it had received a $1 million one-year grant from Target Corp., Minneapolis, to create sustainable healthy school environments that improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and provide wellness policies and education for students and families. The grant will expand the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program to reach more than 20 million students in 35,000 schools by 2017. The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program supports schools to implement policies and practices that meet federal requirements and further local health and wellness goals.

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