Regulation Nation: New federal rules for school food will cost millions, group says

Newly proposed federal regulations aimed at the snack foods and drinks served in the nation's schools could come with a hefty price tag.

The American Action Forum estimates the regulations, which include caps on serving sizes and calorie counts, will cost schools $127 million and require more than 926,000 hours of paperwork.

Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the institute, says the proposals amount to yet another unfunded federal mandate for state and local governments, "at a time when many of their budgets are still struggling."

The Food and Nutrition Service regulations would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which says schools in at least 39 states already have some kind of snack food standards in place. Thousands of schools "have already taken voluntary steps towards meeting the proposed standards," the department said, adding that many of the schools have started making the changes with little or no impact to their revenue.

The new proposals come as a part of a second wave of regulations stemming from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Administrators are still working to comply with a number of other mandates that have significantly changed school food options in recent years. They include a requirement that each student take a serving of fruit or vegetable as part of their lunch or the federal government may not reimburse the cost -- driving up prices for both students and school districts.

But getting the healthier fare onto kids’ lunch trays doesn't necessarily mean that they'll actually consume the food. One West Philadelphia High School student told a local reporter that kids use the servings to play "food basketball," simply tossing away the fruit placed on their tray.

"Like, if you have an orange or an apple, you take it, and you have a trash can, shoot it in the trash can and see if you can make it," the student said.

That's the very thing first lady Michelle Obama urged kids not to do Monday, speaking in a Google Fireside Hangout marking the third anniversary of the creation of her Let's Move! initiative. Obama urged kids to give fruits and veggies a try, saying, "I want every kid to commit to not throwing out anything."

The USDA will be taking public comments on the newest school food and drink proposals through April 9 at