The foods and beverages available in schools have a significant impact on children’s diets and weight, with many students consuming more than half of their daily calories at school. In addition to meals, nearly all students can buy foods and beverages at school, often from multiple locations, including cafeteria a la carte lines, vending machines, and school stores. These snacks and drinks are technically called “competitive foods” because they compete with school meals for students’ spending; however, they are also referred to as “snack and a la carte foods and beverages” throughout this document.
Ensuring that schools sell nutritious foods is critical to improving children’s diets. This is one of the goals of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), passed in 2010, which directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold in schools during the school day by aligning them with the current dietary guidelines.