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Healthy Snacking in 2014 with Smart Snack Standards

Sysco Shape August 2013


Back to SchoolKids eat more than breakfast and lunch while in school. They also eat snacks. Now, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards, kids will be offered healthier treats.

To comply with the new standards which go into effect July 1, 2014, foodservice professionals are finding creative ways to prepare snacks that are healthy and that kids will eat.

“Compared to previous generations, kids today have more sophisticated palates,” says Valerie Hoover, nutrition services specialist for Sysco. “We need to focus on creative ways to not only meet the regulations, but also offer items that are exciting and appealing to the student.”

The Smart Snacks in School effort is part of an interim final rule that the USDA released in June. The rule entitled, “National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” reflects the USDA’s consideration of nearly 250,000 comments the department received after it published the proposed rule earlier this year. USDA is still seeking feedback on these standards – the comment period is open through October 28, 2013.

One of the major provisions of the rule is that competitive foods must meet certain nutritional standards. Competitive foods are foods that are sold in the school outside the school meal program, on the school campus, during the school day. It does not include occasional foods related to fundraisers, such as bake sales. The changes are intended to provide kids with healthful foods from vending machines, snack bars and school stores.

Although some standards differ for grade levels, following are some of the standards for snack items. Each item is a portion or a package.

  • Grain products be “whole grain-rich”; or
  • Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
  • Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
  • Contain 10% of the Daily Value of the nutrients of public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber).

Foods must also meet several nutrient requirements such as:

  • Competitive foods must contain 35 percent or less total calories from fat per item.
  • Competitive foods must contain no more than 10 percent total calories from saturated fat per item.
  • Competitive foods must have 0 grams of trans fat per item.
  • Sodium content in snacks is limited to 230 mg per item.
  • Total sugar must be no more than 35 percent by weight.
  • Snack items and side dishes served a` la carte must have no more than 200 calories per item.

There are also rules about allowable beverages, which are limited to plain water (carbonated or uncarbonated), low-fat milk (unflavored) and nonfat milk (including flavored) and 100% fruit or vegetable juices. All beverages must be no more than eight ounces withBack to School Snack the exception of water, which is unlimited.

Not only do foodservice professionals have to prepare these snacks or other items in a way that is nutritious and delicious, but there is one more challenge. “Cost is another factor,” Hoover says. “The perception is that nutritious items are more expensive, but often times if you have the labor to do scratch or partial scratch cooking, lower food costs can be achieved.”

With snacks, the challenge is to find items that fit the requirements and have low food costs. On its website, the USDA offers an infographic with suggestions on how to substitute the “Before the Standards” snacks with “After the Standards” snacks. For example, instead of six medium chocolate sandwich cookies containing 286 (mostly empty) calories, offer light popcorn containing 161 calories. Instead of fruit-flavored candies (249 calories), offer a fruit cup (68 calories).

Some schools began offering healthy snacks before the rules were proposed. According to the USDA, 39 states already have competitive foods standards, and thousands of schools have voluntarily enacted similar rules.

Among the ideas:

  • Offer granola bars as a morning snack, instead of muffins
  • Fill bulk dispensers with trail mix
  • Display all-natural baked chips instead of potato chips
  • Substitute reduced-fat ice cream for the full-fat version
  • Invent a cartoon mascot that encourages children to eat colorful foods
  • For high school students, install a grab-and-go option
  • Prepare mini-versions of the most popular menu items

Don’t forget fresh fruit. According to Snacking in America, a report by Chicago-based NPD Group, fresh fruit is the most popular snack food consumed in the U.S. and is also one of the fastest growing snacks. The study noted that people snacked on fresh fruit more often than they snacked on chocolate. Although consumers over age 65 are the top group for eating fruit, the second largest group is children under age 12.

Kids also like fast food, so Hoover suggests modeling some restaurant promotions for snacks and for meals. “Schools that use those same meal concepts and find ways to make them healthier have seen a positive increase in school lunch and breakfast participation,” she says. For example, one school district promoted Crazy Taco of the Week. Each week, the schools offered a different taco variation and students voted for their favorite. The district saw a 40% participation increase on days that the tacos were served.

“Kids are savvy consumers,” Hoover says. “They want to eat what they see on advertisements and in restaurants.”

For more information on the new competitive food standards, visit


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