A webinar was presented on September 18, 2014 about eating healthier in the school environment, presented by Stephanie Simms from schooltoolkit_smartsnacksNational PTA and Nancy Lyons of the US Department of Agriculture. Starting in school year 2014-15, all foods sold at school during the school day will need to meet nutrition standards. The Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards went into effect July 1, 2014.

Looking at the history of this movement, the webinar recalled how delegates at the National PTA Convention back in 2004 passed a resolution calling for stronger national guidelines for all foods sold in schools and urging consistent messaging about healthy eating throughout all curricula and in the lunchroom. 2010 brought the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which required the establishment of national standards for all foods and beverages sold in schools, other than those sold in the breakfast and lunch programs, and in the summer of 2013, the Interim Final Rule for those standards was released.

Guidelines were developed by the USDA in conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The term Smart Snacks was coined to encourage children to make those food choices, though children have already been seeing healthier school environments through both the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

Where do the Smart Snacks Standards Apply?

  • Is it a food or beverage?
  • Is it sold during school hours (or up to 30 minutes after release)?
  • Is it sold on the school campus?
  • Is it considered an exempted fundraiser, sold in concession lines, in a vending machine, or at a snack bar or in a school store?

If the answer is yes to all of these questions, foods and beverages must meet Smart Snack guidelines. What is not covered are foods served for celebrations or foods served in the evenings, on weekends, or at community events. Some fresh, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables will be exempt from all nutrient standards. Snacks, side dishes, and entrees will have calorie limits. There will be limits on total fat and saturated fat, and all products must contain zero grams trans-fat. The amount of sugar in foods will be limited; and there will be limits on sodium, with this limit going down even further in two years.

What about Fundraisers?

Fundraisers must meet Smart Snacks guidelines if the item being sold is a food or beverage sold during the school day on the school campus and if there are no limits for fundraisers that meet Smart Snacks guidelines. Fundraisers for items that will not be consumed at school during the school day by students are considered exempt from the guidelines (e.g., cookie dough, frozen pizzas sold through catalogs). Some individual schools may have their own policies, so be sure to check local wellness policies.

Illinois is allowing some exemptions from the guidelines for fundraisers. For the 2014-2015 school year, schools with grades 8 and below are allowed no more than nine (9) exempted fundraising days and schools with grades 9 through 12 are allowed no more than 36 exempted fundraising days. Those exemptions decrease to four (4) for schools with grades 8 and below and 18 for schools with grades 9 through 12 for the 2015-2016 school year. In 2016-2017, schools with grades 8 and below will be prohibited from having exempt fundraising days, and schools with grades 9 through 12 will be allowed nine (9) exempt fundraising days. Healthy fundraiser ideas that meet the guidelines are available on the National PTA Smart Snacks page.

What about Beverages?

No caffeinated beverages will be allowed at elementary and middle schools; only plain water, non-fat and low-fat milk, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice will be allowed. In addition, there will be serving size limits for milk and juice. In elementary schools, servings of milk and juice are limited to 8 ounces or less, and at the middle and high school level, milk and juice are limited to 12 ounces or less. Some additional flavored or carbonated beverages will be allowed at the high school level, though they must meet certain calorie and serving size limits. Diet beverages will be limited to 20 ounces or less, and low calorie beverages will be limited to 12 ounces or less.

In order to determine if an item is indeed a Smart Snack and compliant with the guidelines, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has a Smart Snacks Product Calculator which allows you to input product information and handles the calculations for you. If the product is not a Smart Snack, the Alliance also has a Product Navigator in place that will guide you to healthier choices.

Is My School Compliant?

Local Education Agencies must determine if a school is compliant with Smart Snack guidelines. Within a school, who is responsible for that school’s compliancy may vary. That person may be the principal or another administrator. Ask your principal to find out who that person is.

How Can Your PTA Help?

  • As a PTA leader, reach out to your school to find out who is in charge of making sure foods and beverages sold at school during the day are compliant with Smart Snacks guidelines and how your PTA may be able to help inform parents.
  • Work with the school nutrition staff to understand how PTA can support them in gaining acceptance of the new standards.
  • Lead by example—incorporate foods and beverages that meet the Smart Snacks guidelines into PTA events.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with school staff.
  • Educate yourself on the standards and support your school in implementing the changes to provide healthier foods and beverages to every student.
  • Learn more about how you can get involved with your school wellness policy and assist with updating nutrition guidelines for activities, meetings, celebrations, and events to reflect Smart Snacks guidelines. National PTA has information on school wellness policies.
  • Realize that Smart Snacks nutrition standards are a minimum set of standards. If your state or district standards are more stringent in some areas, those would take precedence. Smart Snacks is just a minimum of what must be met.

More information is available from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation PowerPoint presentation Smart Snacks—Be in the Know.