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Smart Snacks: Is Your Fundraiser, Vending Machine, or School Store USDA Compliant?

Sep 27, 2017, 10:53 AM

Beginning July 1, 2014 schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program (that’s most schools) must ensure all foods sold to kids during the school day (called “Smart Snacks”) meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines. But what does it all mean?  Which foods are considered a “smart snack”? And how do I know if my PTA’s fundraiser is compliant?  We get it – it can be confusing! But we’re hoping to clear up some confusion here and get you the resources you need to be successful. If you don’t see an answer here, feel free to ask a question in the comments.

And stay tuned for additional resources to help make sure your PTA is ready to help support healthier foods in school!

What foods are you talking about when you say “Smart Snacks”? 

For the purpose of USDA guidelines, the foods that must meet minimum nutrition guidelines are those sold during the school day in school stores, vending machines, fundraisers, and a la carte lunch lines (think “grab and go” food items not part of a full meal). There are already updated USDA nutrition guidelines for the federally-subsidized school meal.

Foods sold outside of the school day (we’ll get to that in a second) – do not need to meet USDA guidelines.

Wait, did you say fundraisers?

Yes, fundraisers will need to meet the nutrition guidelines if they are sold to kids during the school day or immediately before and after school and are intended to be eaten on the spot.

What do you mean when you say “before and after” school?

The guidelines apply to any food sold

  • on school grounds before the school day begins
  • during the school day; and
  • 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends (think unhealthy fundraisers or unhealthy vending machines as soon as the bell rings).

What about our fundraisers and foods sold on school grounds but not during school day?

The USDA guidelines do not apply to afterschool or weekend events like football games and musical performances, so long as they are not before school or 30 minutes after the traditional school day ends. Your school may have additional restrictions on what can be sold on school grounds, so it’s always important to check first. Additionally, many PTAs are adopting healthy fundraising and event practices. The USDA guidelines are scientifically-backed based on nutrition needs for students. Your PTA may want to use the guidelines as a healthy lifestyle resource for your PTA!

What do you mean when you say foods that are intended to be eaten “on the spot”?

The USDA guidelines are only intended to target “ready to eat foods”. If a student is selling a food product through a catalog-type sale where the food is not intended to be eaten by the student at school, it wouldn’t need to meet USDA guidelines. But your local school may have additional restrictions.

But I heard there can be some fundraisers during the school day that don’t meet the guidelines?

Yes, there is flexibility for states to provide exemptions for infrequent school-approved fundraisers that do not meet the nutrition guidelines. Your administrative office may know this number, but you can also check the National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE) database for “fundraising exemptions” under your state. If your state has not determined the number of exemptions allowable, it is automatically zero, meaning that no exemptions are allowed for fundraisers that do not meet nutrition guidelines. 

What about birthday celebrations and food our PTA gives to kids?

While PTA supports healthy food offerings throughout the day, USDA guidelines only apply to foods sold to kids during the school day. So if a parent or other group is providing food free of charge, they do not need to comply with USDA guidelines. Keep in mind that state and local rules apply – and your school may have stronger restrictions on these items.

How do I know if what we’re selling meets the guidelines?

Good news! There is a simple way to check this using this tool from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Just enter what kind of product you’re selling (for the purpose of vending machines, school stores or fundraisers, it’s generally going to be a “snack”) and answer a few simple questions. The tool will let you know if your product is compliant. Just make sure to have the nutrition label handy!

Note: State and local regulations can differ and may be stronger. This is only related to USDA guidelines, which are designed to be minimum guidelines that schools must meet. However, schools are allowed to go beyond these guidelines. You should check with your school about additional guidelines or restrictions to vending machines, school stores and fundraisers.  It may also be part of your school’s Local Wellness Policy.

Have a question we didn’t answer? Please ask below and we’ll do our best to answer!

Excited about these changes and want to become more involved? Consider becoming at PTA Champion for Smart School Foods here!

Could your state PTA or council benefit from an in-person training? Shoot us an email at schoolfoods@pta.org.