Wisconsin News

Healthier changes on the way for school snacks

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Buying an ice cream bar or bag of pretzels at lunch time could become a thing of the past for students across the country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a comprehensive new set of rules that would require schools to replace some high-calorie favorites with more wholesome options.

These proposed changes come in the wake of this school year's new nationwide measures to make lunches healthier, in a continued effort to fight childhood obesity.

In addition to those healthy lunches, students can still buy not-so-healthy snacks a la carte in the cafeteria or from a vending machine.

Now those items could be under stricter scrutiny.

When Longwood Middle School sixth-grader Elizabeth Meyers is at home, she said she eats a lot of veggies. But, once a week at school, she buys herself a treat.


"I like to get Gatorade, chips, gushers," said Meyers. "I like the ice cream bars."

But some of those less-healthy snacks might soon become a thing of the past.

New proposed rules from the Department of Agriculture would require schools to cut out high-fat, high-calorie and high-sodium snacks.

Most snacks sold a la carte and in vending machines would have to contain fewer than 200 calories.

It's a transition the La Crosse School District has already been working on.

"We've made a lot of changes over the last few years to go from regular potato chips to baked potato chips to reduce the total calorie amount of the items. We used to have 6-ounce muffins that we served. Now we're down to 4-ounce muffins," said La Crosse School District Nutrition Supervisor Joni Ralph.

Some of the a la carte items currently sold in La Crosse schools would be able to stay. But items like two-packs of Pop-Tarts, for example, would have to go. They're whole grain, but they also clock in at 360 calories.

But Linda Lee, co-chair of the Childhood Obesity Coalition, said replacing fatty favorites could actually hurt the school's ability to provide healthy lunches.

"The reimbursement rates don't keep pace with what it costs to produce a lunch. And so schools use a la carte as a way to supplement, financially, their regular school lunch program," said Lee.

Since the highest-selling a la carte snacks tend to be the unhealthy ones, the changes could mean lunch programs would take a financial hit.

The school districts would get no extra funding from the federal government to put the new changes in place.

The proposed regulations would not cover concessions sold at events after-school or any food students bring from home.

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