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USDA's new school snack standards look to boost healthy offerings

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its new Smart Snacks in School standards that seek to improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages offered for sale to students in schools.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will support their great efforts."

The new nutrition standards, which must be implemented by July 1, 2014, apply to all foods and beverages sold a la carte, in school vending machines, stores and snack bars.

The new standards will increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products for sale to students, and reduce the amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar.

"Increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks in schools will go a long way towards creating a healthy school food environment and improving nutrition for 32 million school children," Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a press release. "In addition, this will drive opportunities for increased produce sales to schools, especially for fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in convenient single servings."

Designed to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, foods available for sale will now complement healthier school meals and help create healthier school food environments for U.S. school children, according to the United Fresh press release.