Competitive Foods

  & Beverages

Why are Competitive Foods and Beverages Important?

In the United States, the government requires that all foods sold at school, called competitive foods, meet certain nutrition standards called Smart Snacks. Schools that comply with Smart Snack standards can decrease student access to unhealthy food choices. This is important because 40% of students eat one or more competitive foods daily.1 Availability of competitive foods is linked with increased body mass index (BMI) scores2 and daily consumption of fat,3 as well as decreased fruit and vegetable consumption.3 Unfortunately, access to competitive foods increases with grade level.4 Schools that want to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among students and increase school meal participation should limit the sale of competitive foods.5

best practices

Click on a best practice to see model policy language.

+ Addresses compliance with USDA nutrition standards for all foods sold to students during the school day

USDA standards, commonly referred to as Smart Snacks, apply to all foods sold to students.

  • “The foods and beverages sold outside of the school meal program (i.e. ‘competitive’ food and beverages) will meet the USDA Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards, at a minimum.” – River Valley

+ Regulates food served at class parties and other school celebrations in elementary schools

Food will not be served at school parties.

  • Foods will not be served at classroom parties and celebrations.” - OPI Example

+ Addresses compliance with USDA minimum nutrition standards for all beverages sold to students during the school day

USDA standards, commonly referred to as Smart Snacks, apply to all beverages sold to students.

  • “The foods and beverages sold outside of the school meal program (i.e. ‘competitive’ food and beverages) will meet the USDA Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards, at a minimum.” – River Valley

+ Addresses foods and beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners

Artificially sweetened drinks are not sold during the school day.

  • “The sale of artificially sweetened drinks will not be available for students purchase in campus buildings or on campus grounds during the regular school day.” – Racine Unified

+ Addresses foods and beverages containing caffeine at the high school level

Clear that caffeine is not permitted as it is included in the list of prohibited beverages.

  • Beverages Not Allowed: Soft drinks containing caloric sweeteners; sports drinks, iced teas, fruit-based drinks that contain less than 50% real fruit juice or that contain additional caloric sweeteners, and beverages containing caffeine.” – Turtle Lake

+ USDA Smart Snack standards are described in full or linked to from the wellness policy

Wellness policy has a working and current hyperlink that brings the reader directly to the list of Smart Snack standards.

  • “All foods and beverages sold to students on school premises during the school day outside the school meal program shall meet at least the minimum nutrition standards and recommendations of the USDA Smart Snack rules.” - Elk Mound Area

+ Addresses availability of free drinking water throughout the school day

Students have access to drinking water at all times throughout the school day for no cost.

  • “Free, safe, unflavored drinking water will be available to all students throughout the school day.” - Oregon

+ Regulates food sold for fundraising at all times

Food used for fundraising meets Smart Snack standards, regardless of the time of day.

  • “Accordingly all food items and beverages for sale to students for consumption on campus from vending machines, from school stores, or as fundraisers by student clubs and organizations and/or District support organizations shall comply with the current USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Smart Snack rules.” – Greenfield


Mobilize for Health

School Wellness Policies
More information and resources on school wellness policies and other complementary strategies for community action around childhood obesity prevention.

School Gardens
Information on school gardens and resources for creating a garden at your school.

Farm to Institution
Community action resources to help connect schools with farmers to get local, fresh food into the cafeteria.


Schools Team
Connect with a team of partners throughout Wisconsin working to make schools healthier.


Smart Snacks in Schools
Information on Smart Snacks requirements and resources, tools for helping schools identify foods and beverages that meet the requirements, and strategies for educating students to make healthy food choices.

 Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Product Calculator
Interactive calculator that determines if a given food or beverage item meets Smart Snack standards.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Improving Access to Drinking Water in Schools
Policy brief highlighting ways in which school wellness policies can address water accessibility and further resources for addressing this issue.

University of Iowa

Improving the Nutrition Environment Through Changing Concession Stand Options
Toolkit detailing eight steps for making healthy improvements to foods and beverages sold through school concession stands.

Harvard Prevention Research Center on Nutrition & Physical Activity

Access to Healthy Snacks During Out-of-School Time
Toolkit and online learning community focused on promoting sustainable policy and environmental change to support healthy snacks and physical activity during out-of-school time.

Out of School Time Curriculum
Curriculum for developing healthy habits, including physical activity and healthy eating, during out of school time.


  1. Fox MK, Gordon A, Nogales R, Wilson A. Availability and consumption of competitive foods in US public schools. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(2):57-66. 

  2. Kubik MY, Lytle LA, Story M. Schoolwide food practices are associated with body mass index in middle school students. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(12):1111-4.

  3. Kubik MY, Lytle LA, Hannan PJ, Perry CL, Story M. The Association of the School Food Environment With Dietary Behaviors of Young Adolescents. Am J Public Health. 2003; 93(7): 1168–1173.

  4. Finkelstein DM, Hill EL, Whitaker RC. School food environments and policies in US public schools. Pediatrics. 2008;122(1):e251-9.

  5. Cohen JF, Gorski MT, Hoffman JA, et al. Healthier Standards for School Meals and Snacks: Impact on School Food Revenues and Lunch Participation Rates. Am J Prev Med. 2016;51(4):485-92.