"USDA's proposed nutrition standards are a critical step in closing that loophole and in ensuring that our schools are places that nurture not just the minds of American children but their bodies as well," Harkin said.
Last year's rules faced criticism from some conservatives, including some Republicans in Congress, who said the government shouldn't be telling kids what to eat. Mindful of that backlash, the Agriculture Department exempted in-school fundraisers from federal regulation and proposed different options for some parts of the rule, including the calorie limits for drinks in high schools, which would be limited to either 60 calories or 75 calories in a 12-ounce portion.
The department also has shown a willingness to work with schools to resolve complaints that some new requirements are hard to meet. Last year, for example, the government relaxed some limits on meats and grains in subsidized lunches after school nutritionists said they weren't working.
Schools, the food industry, interest groups and other critics or supporters of the new proposal will have 60 days to comment and suggest changes. A final rule could be in place as soon as the 2014 school year.
Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said surveys by her organization show that most parents want changes in the lunchroom.
"Parents aren't going to have to worry that kids are using their lunch money to buy candy bars and a Gatorade instead of a healthy school lunch," she said.
The food industry has been onboard with many of the changes, and several companies worked with Congress on the child nutrition law two years ago. Major beverage companies have already agreed to take the most caloric sodas out of schools. But those same companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, also sell many of the non-soda options, like sports drinks, and have lobbied to keep them in vending machines.
A spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, which represents the soda companies, says they already have greatly reduced the number of calories that kids are consuming at school by pulling out the high-calorie sodas.
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