USDA rules call for swing to healthier snacks in schools
* Proposed USDA rules to limit fat, salt, sugar
* Snacks should contain 200 calories or less
* Plan allows some soft drinks for older students
* Schools have at least one year to make changes
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Snacks sold in U.S. schools would need to be lower in fat, salt and sugar and include more nutritious items like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, under new potential standards released on Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The proposal, more than a year overdue, also calls for the nation's public schools to ensure individual food and drink items sold in vending machines and other venues during the school day be 200 calories or less, USDA said.
The proposed rules are the second step in a larger effort to improve the foods U.S. students have access to during the school day under a 2010 law aimed at improving childhood nutrition and combating obesity.
USDA, in a statement, said the rules would not cover items sold at various after-hours activities, such as sporting events. They also would allow for "important traditions," such as parents sending cookies or cupcakes to school for a child's birthday, or "occasional fundraisers and bake sales."
There has been wide agreement by food and beverage companies, consumer advocates and public health experts on the need to offer students healthier choices.
For beverages, USDA called for schools to be able to sell water, low-fat and fat-free milk, and 100 percent juices, with smaller 8-ounce (240-ml) portions created for younger students.
High school students could buy 20-ounce servings of various calorie-free beverages, and 12-ounce servings of drinks that have less than 75 calories or less but they could not be sold during lunch or breakfast.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal before USDA issues any final ruling.
USDA said schools will have at least one full school year after the final rule is issued to implement the changes.
Some 50 million children attend over 100,000 schools that are part of the school lunch program and thus would be covered by the proposed rules.