Fuel Up with Smart Snacks as Part of Your School Lunch Program

What are your thoughts on snacking? Some of us have come to view the word as an “ugly” or “bad” word, thinking that snacks are only things like chips and candy bars that can ruin our appetite before dinner.

That couldn’t be further from the truth! Snacking when the body is hungry for fuel in-between meals helps keep students focused on the lesson and keeps hunger at bay. But of course, we want to be reaching for the foods as part of your Smart Snacks School Lunch Program that will help keep our energy at an even level, foods such as an apple paired with peanut butter, carrot sticks and hummus, or a whole grain piece of toast topped with banana slices – don’t they all sound good?

Offer Smart Snacks as Part of Your School Lunch Program

As of a few years ago, all foods sold in schools are required to meet national nutrition standards. This includes snacks, food and beverages sold from a snack bar, snacks sold during a school fundraiser, snacks sold in the vending machine, etc. – essentially any food that is sold on the school grounds. The USDA provides a number of resources so that you can get comfortable with ensuring that all of your snacks are compliant with regulations, and so that you’re helping to make a healthy choice the easy choice for your students.

Smart Snack Standards

A Smart Snack must be the following in order to be in compliance with USDA standards:

  • If a grain product, it must be 50 percent or more whole grain by weight and have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient in the ingredient list, or
  • The first ingredient listed on the label must be a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food, or
  • Be a “combination food” containing a minimum of ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable

In addition, the snack must meet standards for calories, sodium, sugar and fat as follows:

Table courtesy of USDA Food and Nutrition Service, “A Guide to Smart Snacks in School, 2022”

How Can I Tell if My Snack is a Smart Snack?

To make sure the snacks you are offering your students are Smart Snacks, do the following, based on guidelines from the USDA :

  • First, check to see if your snack is listed in the products section of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Smart Foods Planner website. These particular products meet the Smart Snacks Standards based on the product’s Nutrition Facts panel.
  • If you don’t see it listed in the Smart Foods Planner, enter information from your food or beverage Nutrition Facts panel and its ingredients list into the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snacks Product Calculator. Note that you’ll have to pay attention to serving size and the calculator’s directions for the appropriate amount to enter so that it provides a correct calculation.
  • What if your snack isn’t a pre-packaged snack? If the item does not have a nutrition label because it is made from scratch, you need to calculate the nutrition information using the assistance of your registered dietitian nutritionist, or by using your nutrient analysis software .
What if it is Determined That My Snack Isn’t a Smart Snack?

Simply stated, if your snack is deemed not to comply with regulations, you won’t be able to serve it. Therefore, it’s always best to check to ensure your snack is compliant before you make a purchase! If you don’t see your particular snack listed in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Smart Foods Planner, you can always search the products section of the database for examples of foods and beverages that meet the standards and opt to purchase one of those snacks instead.

Still have questions about snack food compliance? Turn to the My K12 Resource team to have your Smart Snacks Program evaluated by the professionals!