Competitive foods are any food sales outside of the federal school nutrition programs, including à la carte sales in the cafeteria and vending machines, such as snacks and beverages. As the name indicates, competitive foods are in direct competition with the school meal programs for students.

In June 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the “Smart Snacks in School” rule, which:

  • Set limits on calories, fats, sugar, and sodium and encouraged the consumption of dairy, whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Stipulated that all snack foods sold in school must be “whole grain-rich” (i.e., they should contain 50 percent whole grains), have whole grains as the first ingredient, or have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein-rich food.

The Smart Snacks Final Rule aligned the standards for snacks offered to students during the school day with the nutrition standards that apply to lunch and breakfast.

Low-income children will especially benefit from these strong standards. When peer pressure and stigma drive low-income students to purchase less healthy yet appealing competitive foods, instead of eating healthy school meals, they lose out nutritionally in a much bigger way than their more affluent peers, and their families lose financially.

See USDA’s resources on smart snacks

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