09/01/2014  |  Jeremy Hill

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to work towards improving the health of today’s school environment. Changes to school meals have offered students healthier school lunch options, including dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The new Smart Snacks in School standards will expand on the improvements and guarantee that children are offered only tasty and nutritious foods during the school day.

Research shows that when less healthy snack foods and beverages are replaced with healthier options, students purchase more nutritious food.

Research shows that when less healthy snack foods and beverages are replaced with healthier options, students purchase more nutritious food. When healthy choices are promoted and more affordable, students choose them more—both as snacks and at lunch and breakfast. Schools that started offering healthful snacks a la carte during lunchtime or in vending programs boosted students’ overall daily consumption of fruits by 26 percent, vegetables by 14 percent and whole grains by 30 percent.

As part of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Smart Snacks in School sets the standard for all food sold in schools. The new parameters balance science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating. As part of the new standards, any food in school must:

  • Be a “whole grain-rich” grain product; 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 one-fourth cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
  • Contain 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients of public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber.

Directed at reducing the amount of “empty calories,” Smart Snacks in School was developed in part from recommendations obtained from the Institute of Medicine. The new regulations place limitations on the amounts of calories, sodium, sugar and fats in snacks and entrees. Allowable beverages for all students include low-fat white milk and fat-free flavored milk, juice and water. Because most sodas contain nothing but empty calories, only “no calorie” and “low calorie” options are permitted in high schools.

“Healthy snacking can improve the overall health of students by regulating mood, boosting brainpower and increasing energy levels,” said Molly Szymanski, Director of School Health and Wellness for the Southeast Dairy Association. “Because of these factors and others, snacking is an important part of a child’s diet. The key to healthy snacking is the selection of tasty, nutritious foods. Dairy foods such as chocolate milk, yogurt and cheese provide great, wholesome snack options. Mixing smaller fruits and vegetables into the snack routine is also a good idea. Foods like baby carrots, broccoli, strawberries and grapes fit well in snack-sized containers and provide healthy treats. Combination snacks like fresh fruit with yogurt dip offer the best of both worlds.”

School vending machines will have a different look when students return to class for the 2014-15 school year. Gone are the chocolate cookies, fruit candies, candy bars and sodas. In their place on the shelf will be items like nuts, snack-sized bags of popcorn, granola bars, fruit cups and yogurt.

There are a number of ways to get your students involved in smart snacking. Fuel Up to Play 60 provides a play called “Snack Smarter at School” which encourages students to form a team of “Snack Smart Student Investigators” to identify snack and “a la carte” foods offered in the school. The teams of “investigators” then work with adults at the school to make sure the foods are the most nutritious offerings possible.

Fuel Up to Play 60 offers schools a number of opportunities to address the sweeping changes. Perry W. Harrison Elementary School in Pittsboro, North Carolina has made the traditional birthday celebration a way to teach students about healthy snacking options. By converting the traditional celebration into an opportunity for students to taste a variety of fruit and yogurt smoothies, administrators have been able to diminish the number of unhealthy snacks on the campus. The “smoothie parties” have become an extracurricular highlight at Perry W. Harrison.

“Our goal was to begin changing the culture of classroom parties by offering smoothie bar parties instead of the traditional parties,” Jennifer Sipe, a Fuel Up to Play 60 Program Advisor at Perry W. Harrison noted. “The majority of the classroom parties are becoming healthier due to the wellness policy at school and the smoothie parties. The parents have also been very supportive and encouraging to provide snacks and party items that support healthy eating.”

One of the keys to the success at Perry W. Harrison stemmed from the willingness of the staff to join the effort. The school’s administration led the charge, advocating changes to make the forthcoming transition to the Smart Snacks in School a smooth one. “The principal and assistant principal have been awesome,” Sipe stated. “They work to promote and encourage the healthy events. The smoothie parties have helped and continue to help change the culture here at school.”

Persistent interaction with the students, both in the lunch and breakfast lines and through continued school health contests and promotions, helped cultivate the nutritious atmosphere. The enthusiasm of the administration and staff permeated throughout the student population and eventually the challenge to change was minimal. Now, the school embraces its efforts to be healthy.

“It is essential that the administration gets behind making healthy changes,” said Szymanski. “Students and teachers feed off of the administration. If the administrators can engage students in the process of revamping snacks, such as getting their ideas for options that meet the new guidelines, the changes become much easier.”

At Sprout Springs School of Enrichment in Flowery Branch, Georgia, collaboration between the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and school administrators instigated healthy changes.

“In preparation for changes to the snacking standards, we made a decision to stop selling candy and other food items to raise funds for our school,” said Steve McDaniel, Principal at Sprout Springs. “Instead, our PTO organized the Seminole Sprint, which allows us to raise funds in a healthy way. As part of the program, students are encouraged to ask their friends and families to pledge a certain amount of money per lap. The organizational efforts of the PTO make the event one of the school’s most anticipated.”

“We are offering students items like fat-free fudge bars, orange sherbet pops and real fruit bars —all of which meet the guideline of 100 calories or less,” said Tom Adam, Physical Education Teacher at Sprout Springs.

Because McDaniel and his staff were proactive with their efforts to meet the forthcoming guidelines, Sprout Springs will have little trouble adjusting to the new Smart Snacks in School standards next school year.

The changes have made a difference to more than just the students: “The adoption of these new wellness initiatives is one of the more rewarding things that I have been a part of in my professional career,” stated McDaniel.

Is your school ready for the Smart Snacks in School standards? Discover new ways to get students and staff involved at or find healthy, alternative snack ideas on the Southeast Dairy Association website,

Jeremy Hill is a Public Relations Specialist for Function and a writer for the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association.
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