In a surprising twist, the snack known as Flamin' Hot Cheetos actually qualifies as a "Smart Snack" under revised federal guidelines for snacks in schools.
The new guidelines were introduced by the Obama administration last year in an effort to limit junk food intake by children during school hours. However, almost half of all states across the country have come out against the guidelines, calling them too strict. In addition, a number of legislators believe the guidelines make it too difficult for schools to raise money through vending machine sales.
According to the guidelines, snacks offered at school fundraisers and in vending machines must contain 50% whole grain, no more than 200 calories, no more than 230 mg of sodium, no more than 35% sugar, and no more than one-third of the calories may come from fat. So far, more than 22 states have pushed for an exemption to the guidelines since they were introduced.
The treats have been reformulated to offer a new snack with less fat, less salt, and more whole grains. However, according to professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Virginia Stallings, who chaired the committee that helped make the federal rules, Flamin' Hot Cheetos were not the type of snacks they had in mind while writing the Smart Snack rules, writes Monica Eng for NPR.
"I thought the top sellers might be things that had more nutrients in them than Flamin' Hot Cheetos," she says. "But let me say that one of the things we were absolutely expecting and appreciate is that the food companies would look at these recommendations and they would, in fact, reformulate their products."
Rather than granting interviews, Cheeto maker Frito-Lay issued a statement saying, "we offer a variety of Smart Snack compliant products in schools in portion-controlled sizes to suit a variety of tastes, including the Reduced Fat, Whole Grain Rich Flamin' Hot Cheetos."
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture stands firm in its position that the new standards have already "helped kids across the country eat healthier."
At the same time, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) gave its stamp of approval to the individually-wrapped processed cheese Kraft Singles, with its "Kids Eat Right" label. The label is placed on products in order to let parents know it is a healthy food option. According to AND, the campaign was started in order to "raise awareness that the diets of America's kids are falling short in consumption of dairy, calcium, and Vitamin D."