No More Empty Calories: The U.S. Government Gets Tough On School Snacks

Farewell, chocolate sandwich cookies. School vending machines and snack bars are now required to stock only healthy options, like fruit cups and peanuts.

Beginning in June, schools in the U.S. started implementing new standards covering vending machines and snack bars. Out go chocolate bars and fruit candies, and in come peanuts and fruit cups. The regulations were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and schools have a year to comply.

This infographic provides a window into the USDA’s thinking. The emphasis is on whole grains, as well as foods containing fruits, vegetables, dairy, or protein (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, or nuts) as primary ingredients. Sodium is a dirty word, and "empty calories"—added sugars and fats with no nutritional value—are frowned upon. The full rules summary can be found here.

That is bad news for manufacturers of chocolate sandwich cookies, which contain 286 calories (including 182 empty ones) in a six-pack, according to the department.

The rules cover more than 50 million kids. But they won’t affect what students bring from home, or what they buy outside the school grounds. Bake sales and the like will continue as before. There are no rules banning birthday cakes.

The USDA, which has also introduced new rules for meals, says the snack standards are necessary to improve health:

Nearly one third of children in America are at risk for preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease due to being overweight or obese. If left unaddressed, health experts tell us that this generation may be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

Kids will always find a way to get the foods they want. Schools just won’t be laying it all out on a plate anymore.

Add New Comment


  • MaureenABA

    applaud the USDA’s efforts to create national food guidelines in our schools.
    Since 2006, the beverage industry has voluntarily implemented a similar set of
    standards – ultimately cutting the calories shipped to schools by 90%. We are
    proud of our partnerships and work on this front, which are described in more
    detail here: http://www.clintonfoundation.o....
    -Maureen Beach, American Beverage Association