The Proposed Rule for Snacks in Schools

The Proposed Rule For Snacks In Schools

Mon 11 Mar 2013

Story by The Food Revolution Team

Earlier this year, the USDA released proposed guidelines for “competitive” foods (snack foods and beverages) sold in schools, including items sold in vending machines, school stores and à la carte lines. These proposed rules are the first nutritional updates in 30 years – see below for more details. You can also find out how you can act on these issues here.

USDA Proposed Rules for “Competitive” Snack Standards

By the new proposed rule, a competitive food item MUST:

- Meet all of the proposed competitive food nutritional standards.

AND, include one of the following:

- Be either a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or whole grain product.
- Contain 10% of the Daily Value of a naturally occurring nutrient of public concern i.e. calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber.
- Be a combination food that contains ¼ cup of fruit or vegetable.

Proposed guidelines for snack food

Specific nutritional standards for snack items and side dishes are the same for elementary, middle and high schools:

Snack items and side dishes must have 200 or less calories and entrée items sold in à la carte lines (not part of the lunch program) must have 350 or less calories.
Snack items and side dishes must have 200mg or less of sodium per portion and entrée items must have 480mg or less sodium.
Total fat content must be less than 35% of total calories (reduced-fat cheese, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and seafood with no added fat are exempt), saturated fat content must be less than 10% of total calories and there much be 0g of trans-fat in competitive foods.
• There are two alternative for sugars: 1) less than 35% of calories from total sugars. 2) less the 35% of weight from total sugars in foods.
• Accompaniments such as salad dressings must be pre-portioned and included in the nutritional profile of the item it accompanies and must meet all proposed standards.
• Foods and beverages in elementary and middle school must be caffeine-free. Note: there are no caffeine restrictions in high schools.

Proposed guidelines for beverages

Specific nutritional standards for beverages differ by age and grade:

Schools must have free drinking water available where lunches are served, during the meal service, and where after school snacks are served.

Elementary and middle schools can serve plain water, low-fat milk (8oz or less), 0% fat plain or flavored milk (8oz or less), nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives and 100% fruit/vegetable juice.

As well as the above options, high schools can also offer:

Calorie-free, flavored and/or unflavored, caffeinated or non-caffeinated carbonated water (less than 20oz).
Other calorie-free caffeinated or non-caffeinated beverages that comply with the FDA standard of less than 5 calories/serving (less than 20oz).
• There are two options for caffeinated or non-caffeinated ‘lower calorie’ beverages in the rule: 1) less than 40 calories/8oz serving or less than 60 calories/12 oz serving (such as Vitamin zero water, coke zero, powerade zero orange). 2) less than 50 calories/8oz serving or less than 75 calories/12 oz serving (full calorie sports drinks, full calorie vitamin waters).


All foods that meet the proposed standards may be sold at fundraisers during school hours. These standards will not apply to items sold during non-school hours, weekends or off-campus fundraising events. State agencies also have the option to set limitations on the number of fundraisers during the school year which are exempt from these standards.

What’s exempt from the rule?

There are a number of foods exempt from this rule which means they are subject to fewer or none of these nutritional standards.

Exempt from the fat limit of less than 35% of total calories are reduced-fat cheese, nuts and seeds with no added nutritive sweeteners or fat, dried fruit, nut and seed butters, and seafood with no added fat.

Exempt from sugar regulations are fresh, frozen and canned fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners, dried whole fruits or vegetables, dried whole fruit or vegetable pieces, dried dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners and low-fat or 0% fat yogurt with less than 30g sugar per 8oz.

Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables with no added ingredients except water and fresh, frozen and canned fruit packed in 100% juice or extra-light syrup would both be exempt from all nutrition standards.

À la carte meals may also be exempt from these standards – proposed alternatives state that only the fat and sugar content of à la carte items are limited or that à la carte items are exempt from all standards if sold on the same day or within four operating days as served in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or Breakfast Program (BP). For example, if pizza were served as part of the NSLP, it would also be allowed to be served in the à la carte line without any competitive regulations applying.

Find out more about the rule, what it means and how you can comment on it here.

The Food Revolution Team

Image: Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project


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