University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Whether you're new to school nutrition or more seasoned, start smart with Smart Snacks

Stack of books with apple on top

There’s much more to school nutrition than what’s served on the tray.

One thing’s for sure – there are a lot of rules to remember! Whether you’re new to school nutrition or more seasoned (wink), a refresher is always a good idea. Let’s lay the groundwork for this blog post series by starting with some basics.

If you serve school lunch or participate in other child nutrition programs, you must also comply with USDA Smart Snacks nutrition standards. Why do the Smart Snacks standards exist? There are several important reasons.

  1. Students often get close to ¼ of their daily calories from snack foods and beverages. Offering healthier snacks at school can positively impact child nutrition!
  2. Limiting sales of “competitive foods” is linked to healthier body weights among children.
  3. Students with healthier eating patterns perform better in school and often have fewer behavioral issues!

These requirements apply to any foods or beverages sold to students during the school day. That includes:

  • Items sold a la carte in the cafeteria
  • Items available at school stores, snack bars, and vending machines
  • Items sold during fundraisers that are intended for consumption at school

Smart Snacks standards apply from midnight until 30 minutes after the end of the scheduled school day.

If your school day ends at 3:30 pm, Smart Snacks standards apply from midnight until 4:00 pm. This may seem strange, but it comes into play when we consider fundraising and before- or after school events.

For example, Smart Snacks standards would not apply to the concession stand selling popcorn, soda, candy, and other snacks at the Friday night football game. However, the standards would apply to a fundraiser where packaged, ready-to-eat snacks were being sold before first period, during passing periods, or just after the end of the school day.

Of course, fundraisers often include frozen items like pizza kits and cookie dough. These items are NOT subject to Smart Snacks requirements, as they are not meant for consumption at school.

In Illinois, ISBE does allow some flexibility on this. High schools can get exemptions for up to 9 in-school fundraisers per school year. Send a message to for more information!

So what exactly are the Smart Snacks requirements? Check out the next post in the series as we start with the Smart Snacks GENERAL standards. We also recommend taking our free online course, "Smart Snacks: Introduction and Background" to earn USDA Professional Standards credit!