University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Smart Snacks step-by-step: Is it snack or entree?

Grapes and cheese on a wooden board

So your item meets the Smart Snacks general standards – now what?

Well, it needs to meet the Smart Snacks NUTRIENT standards for calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and total sugars. We know there are lots of rules, but there are good reasons why!

Why are these nutrient standards important?

  • Calories: Taking in too many calories over time can lead to weight gain.
  • Total Fat: Fat is higher in calories than protein and carbohydrate and can therefore contribute more to weight gain.
  • Saturated Fat: Too much saturated fat is linked to higher cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease.
  • Trans Fat: Trans fat is a type of fat known to increase cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. The FDA no longer recognizes trans fats as safe.
  • Sodium: High sodium intake during childhood can increase the preference for salty foods later in life. Getting too much sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Total Sugars: Foods high in sugars typically have extra calories and may not have a lot of other nutrients.

There are separate Smart Snacks nutrient standards for foods classified as snacks and entrees. The main difference between a snack and entrée is that an entrée can be considered a main course.

Here are questions to ask as you decide whether an item would be a snack or entrée:

Is it a meat/meat alternate (M/MA) only?

  1. If the M/MA is yogurt, cheese, nuts, seeds, or nut or seed butter, it is classified as a SNACK.
  2. Other M/MA such as eggs or a chicken breast filet are classified as ENTREES.

Is it a M/MA plus one or more of the following: Fruit, vegetable, whole grain-rich food?

  1. Combination foods with at least ¼ cup of fruit can be classified as snacks or entrees depending on portion size and whether they could be considered a main dish. For example, a cheese and fruit box vs. a cheese stick and apple, or a snack-size vs. entrée-size yogurt parfait. Portion size is especially important at the high school level, where the minimum M/MA portion size for a reimbursable meal is two ounce-equivalents. Thus, a parfait could be offered in a snack size portion if the amount of yogurt provides one ounce-equivalent of M/MA.
  2. Combination foods with at least ¼ cup of vegetable can also be a snack or entrée depending on the portion sizes. For example, cheese cubes with baby carrots and bell peppers could be considered an entrée depending on the amount of cheese included.
  3. When you have a M/MA with a whole grain-rich food, it depends on the ingredients and whether they are typically eaten as a snack or entrée. For example, a burger on a whole grain bun would be considered an entrée, but peanut butter or cheese with crackers would be considered a snack.

Is it a grain only, whole grain-rich entrée served in the School Breakfast Program?

  1. If yes, you can evaluate using the nutrient standards for entrees. Examples include waffles, pancakes, French toast, and muffins.
  2. Note that breakfast items can be considered both snacks and entrees. If sold in a portion size smaller than served at breakfast, the item is considered a snack (e.g., an individual waffle compared to two waffles).
  3. If your school only serves school lunch, the item’s classification depends on portion size and whether the portion served could be considered a main dish.

Download our handy resource here on classifying items as snacks or entrees. And don’t forget to check out our free online course, “Smart Snacks: Nutrient Standards for Snacks and Entrees” to earn USDA Professional Standards credit!