Smart Snacks at School and at Home

snack foods

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) 12.5 million youth, between the ages of 2 to 19, are obese. In just one generation the number of obese youth has tripled. Research shows that childhood obesity is a risk factor for many different chronic and life threatening diseases in adulthood (e.g. coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure). School meals have been nutritionally changed for the better and in 2014 snack guidelines are changed too.

Even though the USDA has reduced lunch portion sizes and focused on the nutritional values of the foods being offered for school lunch meals, youth still have access to many unhealthy choices such as beverages, candy and chips that are high in fat, sodium, and/or added sugars. These snack items are sold in vending machines, school stores and cafeterias (The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students, n.d.).

In an effort to instill more healthful habits in children and teenagers, the USDA implemented the Smart Snacks in School- policy. The changes in school snacks took place at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. These changes allow schools to offer healthier snacks, while limiting the access to junk food (School Meals, n.d.).

According to the USDA any snack sold in schools must have less than 200 calories, and be low in sodium, fats, and added sugars. For example, chocolate, candy, cookies, pastries and regular soda can be replaced with granola bars, nuts, light popcorn, tortilla chips and flavored water. Furthermore, low fat dairy products like yogurt and fresh fruits can be available for snacking. These changes make healthier choices easier and lower empty calorie intake of foods that have no nutritional value.

Furthermore, research has shown that by making healthy snacks available in schools, the consumption of fruits and vegetable increases (Gonzalez, Jones & Frongillo, 2009). Children receive health benefits from consuming healthier snacks like those mentioned above, so instead of just having something to eat, kids can improve their health and wellness by making smart choices.


1) Even though nuts are high in fat and calories, eating them helps prevent cancer and diabetes (Vadivel, Kunyanga, & Biesalski, 2012).

2) Consuming whole grains lower risk of many chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes; helps prevent cancer, and makes individuals feel full longer (Jonnalagadda et al., 2011). 3) Low-fat dairy products provide youth with calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and protein, which is needed for bone growth and bone health.  

After looking at the many health benefits of the Smart Snack initiative parents might even decide to take it further by re-thinking snacks at home. In order to make healthy choices, easier choices for youth, parents can offer fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks. The produce can be pre-cut and ready to eat in the fridge – youth will be more likely to consume it. Parents can take note from school policies by changing out soda for flavored carbonated water, which has no calories and is carbonated. Take a look at the changes made in the school cafeteria and vending machines at school to gather ideas and make a plan for what might work best with your family.


Amanda Root, Cornell Cooperative Extension in Jefferson County


Data and Statistics. (2014, January 7). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from

Gonzalez, W., Jones, S. J., & Frongillo, E. A. (2009). Restricting Snacks in U.S. Elementary Schools Is Associated with Higher Frequency of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. Journal Of Nutrition, 139(1), 142-144. doi:10.3945/jn.108.099531

Jonnalagadda, S. S., Harnack, L., Rui Hai, L., McKeown, N., Seal, C., Liu, S., & Fahey, G. C. (2011). Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. Journal Of Nutrition, 141(5), 1011S-1022S. doi:10.3945/jn.110.132944

Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School. (n.d.). USDA. Retrieved from

School Meals. (n.d.). Smart Snacks in Schools. Retrieved from

The Obesity Epidemic and United States Students. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Vadivel, V., Kunyanga, C. N., & Biesalski, H. K. (2012). Health benefits of nut consumption with special reference to body weight control. Nutrition, 28(11/12), 1089-1097. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2012.01.004