University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Smart Snacks: Does my item meet the nutrient standards?

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Once you have determined if your item is a snack or entrée, you can refer to the right nutrient standards.

The primary differences are with calories and sodium.


  • Snack – 200 calories or less
  • Entrée – 300 calories or less


  • Snack – 200 mg or less
  • Entrée – 480 mg or less

Both snacks and entrees can have 0 g for trans fat (this should be easy, as trans fats have been mostly phased out by the food industry).

They also both have the following limits:

  1. Total fat: 35% of calories or less
  2. Saturated fat: Less than 10% of calories
  3. Total sugars: 35% by weight or less

Download our resource here for a printable version of the standards, plus directions on how to calculate % calories from fat and sugars.

Some nutritious foods are naturally high in some of the nutrients that must be limited under Smart Snacks standards, such as fat. Exemptions allow for the inclusion of nutritious foods that may not meet specific criteria.

What foods have nutrient exemptions?

Saturated fat exemptions:

  • NUTS – these contain higher amounts of protein, fiber, vitamin E, calcium, and iron
  • Reduced-fat CHEESE/part-skim mozzarella – these are great sources of protein and calcium
  • EGGS – these are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and more!

Total fat exemption:

  • Seafood, such as canned tuna packed in water
  • Seafood tends to be high in protein and B vitamins, as well as heart-healthy unsaturated fats

Sugar exemption:

  • Dried fruits with no added sugar and dried cranberries, tart cherries, or blueberries, sweetened only for processing and/or palatability with no added fats
  • Dried fruits have had water removed so they are more concentrated in sugar, but are still good sources of nutrients like fiber and vitamin C.

What about something like trail mix, that includes foods with different nutrient exemptions (e.g., dried fruit, nuts)?

  • Trail mix consisting of dried fruits and nuts/seeds with no added sugars or fats is exempt from the total fat, saturated fat, and sugar standards. Trail mix must still meet criteria for calories, sodium, and trans fat.
  • Trail mix with added sugars and fats is allowed under Smart Snacks provided it meets at least one of the general standards. However, these types of trail mix are NOT exempt from sugar and fat standards and must meet all nutrient criteria.

This is similar to a PAIRED EXEMPTION, which is when two or more foods that are exempt from specific nutrient standards are packaged and sold together. Only a pairing of foods from the list below, without added fats or nutritive sweeteners, can be considered a paired exemption.

  • Reduced-fat cheese or part-skim mozzarella
  • Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters
  • Dried fruit with nuts or seeds
  • Fruit: fresh, frozen, or canned
  • Non-fried vegetables: fresh, frozen, or canned
  • Dried fruits or vegetables

To this point, we have covered the Smart Snacks standards for food items. What about drinks?

Continue to the next blog post to learn more! And don’t forget to complete our free modules, “Smart Snacks: Nutrient Standards for Snacks and Entrees” and “Smart Snacks: Nutrient Exemptions” to earn USDA Professional Standards credit!