Smart Snacks in School FAQs

School Store Guidelines

Many school volunteers, administration and staff have questions regarding the  USDA’s Smart Snack in School Guidelines for foods sold in schools.  LiveWell Greenville’s Schools Specialist, Catherine Puckett, has pulled together the following list of Frequently Asked Questions, nationally and locally. Following the Frequently Asked Questions, our Schools Specialist has compiled a list of resources to assist in this transition.  If you have a question that has not been addressed by this list, please leave your question in the comment form below. Our specialist will research it and provide answers as they become available.

What are the USDA “Smart Snacks in School”?

On June 27, 2013, the USDA passed its interim final rules for competitive foods called, “Smart Snacks In School”. “Competitive foods” are snacks and beverages that are sold apart from the National School Lunch Program (“NSLP”) and thus “compete” with breakfast and lunch for student spending.

Smart Snacks In School set guidelines on what can be sold in school vending machines, a la carte lunch lines and in student stores during the school day. There are two components for snacks — one is a restriction on the ingredients of the snacks, which requires whole grains, dairy, fruit, vegetables and other protein sources (like beans); the other component sets specific limits on calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.

When did the Smart Snacks guidelines go into effect?

July 1, 2014

What time frame is considered a school day?

The USDA refers to a school day beginning at midnight and ending 30 minutes after the last bell has rung.

Do the Smart Snacks guidelines refer to all foods sold and served during the school day?

No, these guidelines only refer to foods sold during the school day.

Who will be enforcing these guidelines?

Each State Department of Education will be responsible for enforcing these guidelines. If schools are found to be in violation, investigations, fines and withholding of federal reimbursement for the lunch program may follow.

Which foods meet the Smart Snacks guidelines?

The USDA has issued the following steps in determining if a food meets the guidelines. All steps must be considered:

  1. Foods must be whole grain rich, or first ingredient a fruit/vegetable/dairy/protein, or be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup fruit/vegetable, or contain 10% DV of either Calcium/Potassium/Vitamin D/Fiber.
  2. Calories: Snacks < 200 calories, Entrees < 350 calories
  3. Sodium: Snacks < 230 mg, Entrees < 480 mg
  4. Fat: Total Fat < 35% of calories, Saturated Fat < 10% of calories

Accompaniments must be counted (cream cheese, sour cream, ranch, ketchup, and dressings).

How do I calculate the percentage of calories from fat contained in an item?

There are two methods of calculating this percentage based on the information found on the nutrition facts panel. Both are acceptable, though they may yield slightly different results. The nutrition facts panel includes total fat in two places:

  1. listed as calories from fat near the top
  2. listed in grams with the other nutrients

To calculate using the calories from fat information, take the calories from fat listed on the label and divide by the total calories, then multiply by 100. Using the nutrition facts panel example shown here to calculate the calories from fat method, the calculation would be as follows: 50 calories ÷ 140 calories x 100 = 35.7 percent of calories from fat.

To use the grams of total fat method, take the grams of fat on the label and multiply by 9 (the calories in each gram of fat), divide that result by the total calories, then multiply by 100. Using the nutrition facts panel example here, the calculation would be: 5 grams x 9 calories ÷ 140 calories x 100 = 32.14 percent of calories from fat.

It appears that these two methods may give different results when calculating the percentage of calories from fat. If so, which calculation should be used? These two methods will often provide slightly different results because the FDA has different rounding rules for the labeling of each of these nutrients on the nutrition facts panel. However, if either method results in less than or equal to 35 percent of calories from fat (do not round the result), the product will meet the total fat standard. The example above could be sold since the result, using the grams of total fat, is less than or equal to 35 percent of calories from fat.

When is a food considered an entrée?

An entrée is defined as a combination of meat/meat alternate and a whole grain-rich food. Cheese or peanut butter alone is not considered to be an entrée; however, when combined with whole grain-rich bread, these sandwiches are entrée items.

Do foods given to students through a take-home backpack program fall under these guidelines?

No. These guidelines only refer to foods sold during the schools day. Foods that are given to students do not have to comply. However, please keep in mind that the backpack programs are designed to aid children that suffer from food insecurity. These children are often at highest risk for becoming overweight or obese. LiveWell has designed a guide for healthier options that meet the backpack program’s needs. Healthy_Mission_Backpack

What is considered a combination food?

A combination food is defined as a product that contains two or more components representing two or more of the recommended food groups: fruit, vegetable, dairy, protein or grains. If a combination food does not meet the general standards by being:

  1. a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight or have whole grains as the first ingredient
  2. having one of the non-grain major food groups as a first ingredient (fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein food)
  3. a food that contains 10 percent of the Daily Value of a nutrient of public health concern from the DGA (i.e., calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber), then such a combination food must contain ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable.

Combination foods must also meet the specific nutrient standards specified in the Smart Snacks interim final rule.

Does popcorn qualify as a Smart Snack?

Popcorn is whole grain and may be eligible as a smart snack, provided it meets all applicable standards. The ingredient label must list the first ingredient as popcorn to meet the general standard. There are many different types of popcorn available on the market, some with added fats and/or sugars, therefore, the nutrition facts panel or product specifications must be checked to determine if the product meets the nutrition standards.

What is considered a fundraiser?

USDA considers a fundraiser to be an event that includes any activity during which currency/tokens/tickets, etc. are exchanged for the sale/purchase of a product in support of the school or school-related activities. For example, giving away food but suggesting a donation would be considered a fundraiser, since funds may be raised as a result. Another example may include a vending machine when the profits are used to support a school-sponsored club or activity such as the school band or football team.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?

The Smart Snacks rule gives the authority to states to set a limit on the number of fundraisers that may be exempted from the nutrition standards. To date, SC has not made a ruling on this, therefore there are no exemptions allowed. There are no limits on the number of fundraisers that include the sale of food items that meet the Smart Snacks standards as well as the sale of non-food items. In addition, the Smart Snacks standards do not apply to food sold during non-school hours, weekends, and off-campus fundraising events.

Resources (click on underlined title to go directly to the resource):

Smart Snacks in School:  Questions and Answers Regarding the Interim Final Rule: This Q&A has been provided by the SC Department of Education, Health and Nutrition

USDA Smart Snacks in School Standards – Smart Snacks in School overview and policies

USDA Smart Snacks in School – resources for schools focusing on Smart Snacks

Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snacks CalculatorThis resource is helpful in determining whether a food product meets the Smart Snacks guidelines

Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snacks Product Navigator – This resource offers an on-line catalog of items that meet the Smart Snacks guidelines

LiveWell Greenville Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools – This resource guide provides name brand recommendations for healthy snacks that can be found locally

Other Local Resources:

Alternative Fundraisers – There are many options for fundraisers that do not involve food. Click Here for more information or contact a LiveWell Greenville School Specialist.

Technical Assistance – LiveWell Greenville is here to help! For assistance with the Smart Snack guidelines and other wellness efforts in your school, please contact a Schools Specialist.

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