What are “Competitive Foods”?
Competitive foods and beverages are those that are sold or available in school settings but are not part of federally reimbursable meals. They may be available to students in a la carte lines in the cafeteria, vending machines, during bake sales, or in school stores.
Why are competitive foods a problem?
Many of these foods are high in calories but low in nutrients and can contribute to an unhealthy school environment for all children. Children from low-income families are especially harmed by the presence of competitive foods. For example, peer pressure and stigma can drive students to purchase competitive foods or skip free and reduced-price meals. The poor nutrition many competitive foods provide is a concern of nutritionists and public health officials, school policy officials, anti-hunger advocates, parents, and community members.
What can be done to improve the healthfulness of competitive foods?
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act requires USDA to issue healthy nutrition standards for all competitive foods sold in schools. The Act gives USDA the power to eliminate the unhealthy foods in vending machines, snack bars, “a la carte” lines in cafeterias, and other foods sold outside of the federally-reimbursed school meals. USDA is expected to start the process by publishing a proposed rule for public comment in December 2011. While these changes will not be fully implemented until at least the 2013/2014 school year, now is a great time for school districts, advocates, and other stakeholders to continue to build on the improvements to the school food environment and gain momentum for the coming changes.
Competitive Foods Resources (pdf)