Smart Snacks in School

As a nation, we’ve raised the bar for foods and beverages sold to students at school. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School standards put in place practical, evidence-based nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and in-school fundraising. This is an important part of promoting healthier options while kids are in school, helping them develop lifelong healthy eating habits. 

Follow these steps to Smart Snacks success.


Step 1: Know Your Venue

The best place to start is by getting organized. Where are snacks and beverages being sold to students in your school? Who is responsible for sale at each of these locations?

Think beyond your á la carte line in the cafeteria. Is the district business office responsible for vending machines? Does a student entrepreneurial class run the school store?  Does the band have a snack cart? Are the sports teams responsible for spirit days to raise money at school?

The Venue Survey Tool will help you inventory the people and places that sell foods impacted by the Smart Snacks standards.

Step 2: Keep Everyone in the Know

Keep everyone responsible for selling snacks and beverages across campus informed about the Smart Snacks standards. Make this an ongoing educational process with your school community.

Check out the Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Smart Snacks Success curriculum in our online Training Center. Or use the Smart Snacks…Just Enough presentation to provide Smarts Snacks basics to staff and students that may change over time.

Step 3: Know Your Products

Look at what’s being sold in each venue. Use the Beverage Inventory and Food Inventory to help you document and stay organized.

The Alliance has tools you can use align your food and beverages with Smart Snacks:

  • Smart Snacks Product Calculator
    Use the Smart Snacks Product Calculator to take away the guesswork! This is the only tool verified by the USDA as accurate for assessing compliance with the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.
  • Smart Food Planner
    Plan healthy menus, find new recipes, browse compliant products and more with this interactive tool!  Create personalized product lists, save favorite recipes and learn new ideas from other school districts.

Step 4: Engage the Business Office

Find out who talks with vendors and manages contracts. Ask them to identify contracts that may need to be amended based on your product inventories. Share the Alliance’s Smart Snacks tools (see Step 3) when writing or updating contracts.

Use the Vendor Contact Tool to inventory vendors, collect contact information and indicate when they have been contacted about new or updated contracts.

Step 5: Work with your Vendors

Get started by following these steps:

  • Ensure they are aware of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards
  • Ask for a list of their products that meet the Smart Snacks standards
  • Develop a plan with them for finding replacement products when needed
  • Request samples for student taste tests
  • Encourage vendors to utilize the Alliance’s Smart Snacks tools (Step 3)
  • Let them know they can find more information about Smart Snacks on the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School website, including specific policies and guidance pertaining to the regulation
  • Use our sample letter to vendors

Step 6: Talk to your Neighbors

Everyone who participates in federal school meals programs has to comply with the Smart Snacks nutrition standards, so it’s smart to join forces. Consider organizing a meeting with neighboring schools or districts to explore combining forces to increase purchasing power and learn from one another. Use our sample invitation and sample agenda to generate interest for the collaboration.

Step 7: Get the Word Out

Smart Snacks affects the whole school community and clear communication is key to success.

Step 8: Promote! Promote! Promote!

Now it’s time to get the share the news about the changes you’ve made. Try these tips:

Step 9: Engage Students

To make sure your changes to the foods and beverages sold at school are accepted by students, it’s important to involve them in the process. Hold taste testing events and focus groups to get their feedback…and make sure you incorporate that feedback. Weave Smart Snacks into your school’s curriculum with this subject guide or get them involved with nutrition education to help build excitement for healthier foods and beverages.

Remember, when students are part of the decision-making process, they are much more likely to embrace the changes and contribute to Smart Snacks success.

Once you’ve aligned the foods and beverages you offer at school with Smart Snacks standards, you’re ready to address school fundraising!

Talk with Our Expert

Jill Turley is one of our National Nutrition Advisors. By contacting her, you can ask questions, learn best practices and get started creating a healthier school environment.

Get to know Jill | Connect with Jill | @rdjill