An Overview of Snack Policy and a la Carte Guidelines for School Food

snack food

Tired of seeing your kids snack on chips and soda because those are the options in school vending machines? The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 funds and establishes nutritional standards for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. As part of this act, the “Smart Snacks in Schools” guidelines were created to help kids in school make healthier choices from vending machines. Smart Snacks in Schools, which began in the 2014-2015 school year sets nutrition standards for what snacks can be sold in schools outside of school meal programs.

For a snack to qualify as a “smart” snack, it must:

  • Be a “whole grain-rich” grain product; or
  • Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
  • Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
  • Contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients of public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber).*

Snacks also cannot be more than 200 calories and cannot have more than 230 mg of sodium. Total fat cannot be more than 35% of the total calories, with saturated fat less than 10% of the calories and no trans-fat in the product. Finally, no more than 35% of the weight of the food may be from sugar.

These standards for snacks also apply to beverages available in schools. While all schools can sell plain water in any portion size, elementary schools may sell up to 8-oz portions of milk and juice while middle and high schools may sell up to 12-oz portions of milk and juice. Only high schools can sell “no-calorie” and “low-calorie” beverages with restrictions on portion sizes and calorie content. Further nutritional restrictions are being placed on milk and fruit juice as well. All milk must be low-fat or non-fat, with flavored milk only having a non-fat option. Fruit juice must be 100% with no added sugar, but can be diluted with plain or carbonated water.

Eliminating less healthy choices is only half the battle. Have a discussion with your kids about why healthy snacks are important and “junk” foods should be an occasional treat. Explain to them that smart snacks will give them energy to play without making them feel tired or slow. Starting this dialogue will help encourage kids to make healthy decisions on their own.


Tisa Hill, Cornell University Division of Nutritional Science

Sarah Roger, Cornell University Division of Nutritional Science

Updated on 3/31/2016 by Katie Baildon, Cornell University


USDA – Tools for Schools: Focusing on Smart Snacks