Understanding the USDA’s Smart Snacks Rule

What the New Nutrition Standards for Foods Sold in Schools Mean for Your Child
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

The USDA has recently published new rules on July 28, 2013, regarding the nutrition standards for competitive foods sold on school campuses. These foods include those sold in vending machines, snack bars, school stores, a la carte items, and at events like fundraisers and bake sales.

Basically, these rules will set higher nutrition standards for food items that are not necessarily considered part of the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program. This means that food sold in vending machines or at bake sales on campus will have higher health standards than ever before.

Regular sodas, snacks high in sugar like donuts, and super salty chips will not be allowed under this rule, while foods like low-fat tortilla chips and certain granola bars will be allowed if they fit under the new standards. Here is an infographic provided by the USDA.

These changes must be put into effect by July 1, 2014, which means all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program will have to abide by these rules by the 2014-2015 school year.

Fundraisers and bake sales have restrictions on what can be sold or offered, but each state has its own flexibility on how many “unrestricted” events are allowed each year that don’t have to follow these new rules.

Here’s a quick overview of the new guidelines:

  • Each food item must meet all of the competitive food nutrient standards including:

—Total Fat – ≤35% of total calories from fat per item as packaged/served  

—Saturated Fat –  <10% of total calories per item as packaged/served

—Trans Fat – Zero grams of  trans fat per portion as packaged/served  (≤ 0.5 g)

—Sodium – Entrée items that do not meet NSLP/SBP exemptions: ≤480 mg sodium per item, Snack and side items: ≤230 mg (until June 30, 2016),  ≤200 mg (after July 1, 2016)

—Calories – Entrée items that do not meet NSLP/SBP exemption: ≤350 calories, Snack items/Side dishes: ≤200 calories per item

—Total Sugar – ≤ 35% of weight from total sugars per item

•Be a grain product that contains at least 50% whole grains by weight or have a whole grain as the first ingredient
•Have as the first ingredient one of the non-grain major food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein foods (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.)
•Be a combination food that contains ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable;
•For the period through June 30, 2016, contain 10% of the Daily Value of a nutrient of public health concern
•Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin D, dietary Fiber

One of the more dense areas in the regulation includes the allowances on beverages. Here is a chart provided by the USDA to better understand the restrictions for different grade levels.

Beverage Elementary School Middle School High School
Plain water , carbonated or not no size limit no size limit no size limit
Low fat milk, unflavored* ≤ 8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz
Non fat milk, unflavored or flavored* ≤  8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz
100% fruit/vegetable juice  ** ≤ 8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz

Caffeine is restricted for all elementary and middle schools, but there is no caffeine restriction for high schools.  In high schools, calorie free and low-calorie beverages including diet sodas and certain energy and sports drinks will be allowed.

“These rules will definitely decrease the amount of empty calories offered in schools and provide overall healthier options for students to choose from. This is a huge regulation from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service that will support the health of young Americans.” says Lisa Mikus, Dietitian. Tell us what you think!

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