The Controversial School Lunch Policy I Fully Support

I just signed my 1st grader up for a school lunch account (he's been begging for pizza Fridays and with a newborn in the house I could use one less lunch to make each week). When I called the school to set it up they informed me that he would only be allowed to buy lunch (which is relatively healthy thanks to federal guidelines) on the account not snacks or juice--for those he'd need to bring in cash. The cafeteria sells chips, ice cream, cookies and all sorts of crap snacks so I love that my son won't be able to treat himself whenever he feels the urge (he's six so something tells me he'd feel the urge for ice cream a lot). I told the woman that was a great rule and she said, "Well, a lot of parents hate it." Apparently, there's been some pushback to get it changed. I'll admit I was kind of shocked. This is a K-2 school we're talking about, not high school.

What my kids eat is really important to me. We try to feed them healthful, mostly organic, real food (as opposed to food products) and we limit juice and sweets. Try is the operative word here. I am certainly not anti special treats, especially with a brand-new baby--my third--around and especially this time of year when holiday parties (and our Advent calendar) abound. But to me the important thing is that I know what my kid is eating and if he had carte blanche to buy what he wanted when he wanted, I wouldn't. Here's an interesting stat: Kids eat up to half of their daily calories in school. I am all for any policy that helps ensure those calories come from good-for-you foods. And there's one coming down the public-school pike that I am very happy about: The Smart Snacks in School Rule. Have you heard of it? It's a set of nutrition standards issued back in June by the USDA for foods and beverages sold in schools. I'm sure it will ruffle some parents' feathers as any new policies tend to do, but this one seems like a no-brainer to me. The guidelines state that snacks in vending machines, school stores, a la carte cafeteria lines and snack bars must meet the following requirements:

1. be a fruit, a vegetable, protein, dairy, or whole grain

2. have fewer than 200 calories

3. be low in fat, sodium, and sugar

Here's a graphic that pretty much sums up what the change will mean for our kids:

"In other words, children will be able to buy only foods that their parents would find generally acceptable," says Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a non-profit, nonpartisan group helping to improve school foods for our kids. If your school participates in the National School Lunch Program (most public schools in the country do), they must adhere to these new snack regulations by the start of the 2014 school year. But, says Black, it's never too early to start making changes. "Parents should feel empowered to talk to their school districts now and find out what they're serving the kids--and when they plan to adopt the new guidelines." I am all for this--for my kids and for the millions of kids across the country who rely on the school lunch programs. Another great stat: Children gained less weight over three years if they lived in a state with strong policies on school snacks than if they lived in a state without such standards. For more on the new policy (how it will affect budgets, who supports it, what it means for the obesity epidemic) and what you can do in your district, check out the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project site.

So, what do you think? Would you support this policy in your kid's school? Why or why not? And I'm curious: Do your kids buy lunch or snacks from their school and are they able to get whatever they want or are there rules like the one at my son's school? Let's discuss.