USDA Unveils Smart Snacks in Schools Guidelines

Infographic: Smart snacks in schools

Good news coming from the USDA this week, as the government agency charged with our kids’ nutrition has published guidelines for healthier snacks. The Smart Snacks in Schools Standard defines what competitive foods will be allowed in schools starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Reminder: The USDA has oversight of school food in 2 aspects:

  1. Free and reduced lunch programs – serving over 30 million kids daily, and adhering to strict nutrition guidelines (but not always quality)
  2. Competitive foods – those snacks sold in vending machines and kiosks, available to all children in school.

The competitive foods have been an area of contention for years, because they were a foothold for junk food and beverage companies into the younger demographics. Schools made some money on the side from the inclusion of sugary soft drinks and fatty potato chip snacks in school hallways.

Well now, the USDA is cracking down on those snacks:

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”

What will we be seeing? According to the Center for Science in Public Interest:

  • Sugar drinks with more than 40 calories per 8 ounces will no longer be sold in school vending machines. (Full-calorie soda is also gone for good.)
  • The new standards will better address obesity and dietary problems—with sensible limits on calories, saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugars.
  • After a phase-in period, companies won’t be able to just fortify snacks with cheap nutrients to qualify them as healthy; all school foods will have to contain actual healthy food―some fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or another healthy food component.

The complete breakdown of the new standards from the USDA is available here. You can see that nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, packaged fruits and veggies will get more prominence. When it comes to beverages, 100% juices will be the big stars. One area of concern is the allowance for diet soft drinks in high schools (they are not allowed in elementary and middle schools).

What do you think? Will this be a new dawn for snacking? Or will junk food companies figure out a workaround?

  • Alyssa B

    This is great! I went to school with a girl who’s mom taught her eat healthy all through her childhood. The minute we got to Jr. High and she had access to vending machines, all she ate for lunch was a soda and peanut m&ms. Every single day. Let’s say it didn’t end well for her health.
    I bet junk food will find a way to creep back in somehow, cause they’re sneaky like that, but this seems like a big step in the right direction.

    • Kat

      I agree, parents who do work hard to educate their kids and are watching what they take in can face an uphill battle when more quick sugary attractive alternatives are right at kid’s fingertips during school hours.


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  • Kbmom2e5

    The peanuts are a surprise. It seems peanut allergies are everywhere. It’s a shame about the flavored water, which inevitably will contain food dyes. My 2 cents, FWIW.

    • Brianne

      I was thinking the same thing about the water. Is it so wrong to expect kids to drink plain water?

      • Catherine

        My thoughts exactly. I bet they also contain artificial sweeteners somehow.

        • Beth

          Totally agree – can we please just drink plain water? I also have a concern with the sodas – they’ll surely put in artificial sweetners instead of sugar. Ugh.

  • Christa

    I think Margo Wootan didd a good job of eleoquently addressing many dangerous misconceptions/doubts so many people seem to have on steps forward like this. My opinion is that government regulations may never fall in perfect line with what we do personally or would like to see, but I am happy with vast improvements that have been made in the past few years. I work on helping schools with menu certification to satisfy fed regs that were pushed out in 2010 and the apparently quality of the program always boils down to the enthusiasm and passion of the staff.