USDA Replaces School Junk Food with “Smart Snacks”

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

Federal officials finalized new regulations on snacks sold in U.S. schools this week, requiring lower limits on the amount of fat, calories, sugar and salt [1]. The USDA’s “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards balances science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating during the school day.

School vending machines

Snack-food companies have already been offering healthier options, but starting next year snack foods in school vending machines can contain no more than 200 calories a serving, with no more than 35% of the weight of the food coming from sugar.

Passed by Congress in 2010, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the USDA to establish science-based nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold to students at school [2]. The new nutrition standards will help schools to make the healthy choice the easy choice by offering students whole grains, fruits and vegetables, leaner protein, and low-fat dairy, while limiting foods with too much sugar, fat and salt.

The new rules are designed to fight childhood obesity and apply to 100,000 schools nationwide. Thirty-nine states already have their own regulations overseeing food sold in schools. When the new rules go into effect, every state will have uniform guidelines.

Highlights of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards include:

Healthier beverage options during the school day. All schools are allowed to sell:

  • Plain water (carbonated or uncarbonated);
  • Unflavored low-fat milk;
  • Flavored or unflavored non-fat milk (and milk alternatives);
  • 100% fruit and vegetable juices, and full-strength juice diluted with water, carbonated or non-carbonated, with no added sweeteners.

Portion sizes based on age.

  • Elementary schools may sell up to 8-ounce portions of allowable milk and juice beverages, while middle and high schools may sell up to 12-ounce portions. In high schools, the standards limit the maximum container size to 12-ounces for lower calories beverages and 20-ounces for calorie-free beverages.

Additional options for older students.

Recognizing increased independence, relative to younger students, the new standards provide additional beverage options to high school students. Smart Snacks in School provides additional calorie-free and lower-calorie beverage options for high school students:

  • Calorie-free beverages, in up to 20-ounce portions;
  • Lower-calorie beverages with up to 40 calories per 8 ounces or 60 calories per 12 ounces.

The new nutrition standards do not restrict the sale of caffeinated beverages to high school students.

Schools and food & beverage companies have the upcoming 2013-2014 school year to make the necessary changes. The new regulations only affect foods sold on school campus during the day. Foods sold at afterschool activities or sporting events will not be subject to these requirements.


  1. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Highlights New “Smart Snacks in School” Standards; Will Ensure School Vending Machines, Snack Bars Include Healthy Choices. United States Department of Agriculture. 2013 Jun 27.
  2. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. U.S. Government Printing Office. 2010 Dec 13.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.