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Healthier foods coming to school vending machines

WASHINGTON -- Kids, your days of blowing off those healthier school lunches and filling up on cookies from the vending machine are numbered. The government is on to you.

For the first time, the Agriculture Department is telling schools what sorts of snacks they can sell. The new restrictions announced yesterday fill a gap in nutrition rules that allowed many students to load up on fat, sugar and salt despite the existing guidelines for healthy meals.

"Parents will no longer have to worry that their kids are using their lunch money to buy junk food and junk drinks at school," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who pushed for the new rules.

That doesn't mean schools will be limited to doling out broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Snacks that still make the grade include granola bars, low-fat tortilla chips, fruit cups and 100 percent fruit juice. And high school students can buy diet versions of soda, sports drinks and iced tea.

But say goodbye to some beloved school standbys, such as doughy pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and those little ice cream cups with their own spoons. Some may survive in low-fat or whole wheat versions. The idea is to weed out junk food and replace it with something with nutritional merit.

"There has to be some food in the food," Wootan said.

Still, 17-year-old Vanessa Herrera of Rockaway, N.J., is partial to the Cheez-It crackers and sugar-laden Vitaminwater in her school's vending machine. Granola bars and bags of peanuts? Not so much. "I don't think anyone would eat it," she said.

The federal snack rules don't take effect until the 2014-15 school year, but there's nothing to stop schools from making changes earlier.

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