Competitive Foods in Schools

Every school day in the 2011-2012 school year, nearly 34 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program. More than 12 million children also ate school breakfasts nationwide through school meals programs operated as a state-federal partnership. In addition to the full meals offered through the school meals program, “competitive foods” are also sold in schools. These foods are also sometimes referred to as à la carte foods or snacks and may be sold in school stores, canteens, snack shops or the like, or in vending machines. 

Girls on SwingState Innovations and Federal Action
Between 2003 and 2012, many states and the District of Columbia enacted legislation or passed resolutions designed to address foods and beverages sold or served on school campuses outside of the full school meals program that provide little nutritional value. State laws, especially in recent years, have addressed school nutrition comprehensively, not limited to competitive foods alone. State legislation that includes actions (broadly defined) to establish policies on “competitive foods” (however denominated) is summarized in detail below. The federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires updated federal standards for both full school meals and competitive foods. On June 28, 2013, USDA released its interim final rule on school competitive foods and beverages, "Smart Snacks in School." New USDA standards for full school meals have already been adopted, requiring that schools offer meals that include more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, only fat-free or low-fat milk and less saturated and trans fat. Other federal rules require free drinking water with meals and gradual sodium reductions. State nutrition rules with more rigorous nutrition requirements or additional requirements for competitive foods or school meals that are not inconsistent with new federal rules are specifically permitted by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Research Information
Recent research indicates that strong state school nutrition standards positively affect both students’ dietary consumption and the nutritional quality of school foods. In California, research indicates the state’s current laws governing fat, sugar and calorie content of competitive foods sold in vending machines, school stores and a la carte in school cafeterias have reduced high school students’ calorie consumption to levels that are lower than those of students in other states. A nationwide study confirmed that state policies improve the nutritional quality of foods offered in vending machines and school stores in U.S. public elementary, middle and high schools.

Enacted State Legislation 2003-2012

AZ HB 2544 (2005, enacted)
Establishes nutritional standards in all school districts for foods and beverages sold or served on school grounds during the normal school day, including portion sizes, minimum nutrient values and a listing of contents. Requires school food and beverages to meet the nutrition standards, including foods and beverages sold in vending machines.  


CA SB 965 (2005, enacted, Chapter 237)
Modifies the list of beverages that may be sold to elementary and middle school pupils and restricts the sale of beverages to high school pupils as well, to specified beverages at specified times of day.
CA SB 12 (2005, enacted, Chapter 235)
Prohibits the sale of certain specified foods and beverages at all California middle, junior high and high schools commencing July 1, 2007. As of the same date, requires that elementary schools, during the school day, sell only full meals and individually sold portions of nuts, nut butters, seeds, eggs, cheese packaged for individual sale, fruit, vegetables that have not been deep fried and legumes.
CA SB 677 (2003, enacted)
California’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Act restricts the sale of certain food items in schools, contingent on the appropriation of funding for certain nutritional purposes, and prohibits the sale of certain beverages to elementary and middle school students, except at specified school events.


CO SB 103 (2004, enacted)
Encourages school boards to include nutritious choices in vending machines and to phase in higher nutritional standards as contracts. Urges each school district to adopt a policy requiring at least 50 percent of vending machine items to meet nutritional standards by the 2006-2007 school year.
CO SB 129 (2008, enacted) - Requires each school district board and the State Charter Institute by Sept. 1, 2008, to adopt and implement a beverage policy that prohibits the sale of certain beverages to students without first establishing nutritional guidelines. Creates an exception for beverages sold during specified school events. Specifies maximum portion sizes for beverages sold at elementary, middle and high schools.


CT SB 373 (2006, enacted, Public Act 06-63) - Effective July 1, 2006, this act  (1) restricts the types of beverages that may be sold to students in schools; (2) requires the State Department of Education (SDE) to set nutritional standards for food sold to students in schools; and (3) provides a financial incentive for school boards, charter and other schools to certify that their schools meet the SDE standards. Supersedes a requirement that school boards provide nutritious and low-fat drink options whenever drinks are available for purchase by students. Extends the requirement that school boards provide nutritious and low-fat food options to the governing authorities of state charter schools, interdistrict magnet schools, and endowed academies.

District of Columbia

DC B 564 (2010, enacted) - The Healthy Schools Act creates a comprehensive program to promote healthy eating and active living in schools. Provisions related to school nutrition establish local nutritional standards for school meals, healthy vending, fundraising, marketing and prize requirements in public schools. Require public schools to participate in federal meal programs whenever possible. Require schools to solicit feedback about healthy meals, provide public disclosure of ingredients, origin of fruits and vegetables, and the nutritional content of school meals and allow at least 30 minutes to eat lunch. Establishes a farm-to-school program and creates a preference and a financial incentive to serve locally grown, unprocessed foods in schools and requires an annual report and recommendations on farm-to school initiatives. Requires teaching about the benefits of fresh, local foods. Creates a school gardens program to issue grants to support the development of school gardens; requires a report and recommendations about school gardens; and permits the sale and consumption of food grown in school gardens. Funds certain programs and requirements.


IL SB 162 (2005, enacted), Public Act No. 94-199.
Among other provisions for school wellness policies, includes nutrition guidelines for food sold on school campuses during the school day. Provides that the Board of Education shall distribute the model wellness policies to all school districts.


IN SB 111 (2006, enacted, Public Law 54-2006) - Covers both student nutrition and physical activity. Requires the department of education to provide information concerning health, nutrition, and physical activity. Requires that at least 50 percent of food items sold in schools to qualify as "better food choices" and, among other definitions, specifies that better food choices are those in which (A) Not more than 30 percent of their total calories are from fat; (B) Not more than 10 percent of their total calories are from saturated and trans fat; (C) Not more than 35 percent of their weight is from sugars that do not occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, or dairy products.  Provides that the requirements do not apply after school hours or to fundraisers. Lowers the percentage in the definition of "qualifying school building" from 25 to 15 percent beginning July 1, 2007 for purposes of the school breakfast and lunch programs. Requires school boards to establish a coordinated school health advisory council to develop a local wellness policy that complies with certain federal requirements. Requires daily physical activity for elementary school students in public schools, with certain exceptions. Allows a school to continue a vending machine contract in existence before the passage of this bill.


KS SB 154 (2005, enacted)
Requires the state board of education (in consultation with other state agencies, private foundations, and other private entities) to develop nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages available to students in public schools during the school day.  Encourages attention to reducing childhood obesity through physical activity, healthful foods, and wellness education when developing the guidelines. Directs local school boards to consider the guidelines when establishing school district wellness policies.


KY SB 172 (2005, enacted), Act No. 84.
Requires K-5 school councils or principals to develop and implement a wellness policy that includes vigorous physical activity each day; permits 30 minutes per day or 150 minutes per week of physical activity to be part of the instructional day. Requires annual assessment of physical activity and reporting to the legislature. Limits access to retail fast foods in school cafeterias to no more than one day per week.  Prohibits serving deep-fried foods in schools, beginning with the 2006-2007 school year. Requires each school to publish a school menu that specifies nutritional information.


LA SB 146 (2005, enacted), Act No. 331.
Limits students' access to certain foods and beverages at school.  Encourages daily physical activity at school to develop lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.
LA HB 767 (2009, enacted) - Revises nutrition standards for beverages sold in public high schools. The bill states that beverages offered for sale to high school students will be comprised of bottled water, no-calorie or low-calorie beverages that contain up to 10 calories per eight ounces,  up to 12 ounce servings of beverages that contain 100 percent fruit juice with no added sweeteners and up to 120 calories per eight ounces, up to 12 ounce servings of any other beverage that contains no more than 66 calories per eight ounces or low-fat milk, skim milk and nondairy milk. It requires that at least 50 percent of non-milk beverages be water and no-calorie or low-calorie options that contain up to 10 calories per eight ounces.


ME LD 796, SP 263 (2005, enacted), Chapter 435.
Implements recommendations of Maine’s Commission to Study Public Health concerning schools, children and nutrition. Requires the Bureau of Health to establish nutritional standards for healthy foods and beverages that may be sold on school grounds outside of the school meals program.
ME HB 398 (2011, enacted) - Authorizes the Department of Education to adopt standards that are consistent with federal school nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold on school grounds outside of school meal programs.


MD SB 473 (2005, enacted), Chapter 312.
Requires all vending machines in public schools to have and use a timing device to automatically prohibit or allow access in accordance with nutrition policies established by local county boards of education by Aug. 1, 2006. Requires health education instruction by each county board of education to include the importance of physical activity.


MA HB 4459, MA SB 2322 (2010, enacted) - Directs the state’s department of public health to establish healthy standards for snacks and beverages sold in school vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria à la carte lines. These standards must be in accord with scientific guidelines that encourage greater consumption of water, low- and non-fat milk, and juice, reduced fat and sugar in snacks and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. By the 2012 – 2013 school year, the law requires schools to offer drinking water, fruits and vegetables wherever food is being sold on school campuses. Makes it easier for schools to purchase directly from Massachusetts farmers in order to support the state’s agricultural economy and help schools access local healthy produce. Establishes a Commission on Childhood Obesity to develop a coordinated statewide plan to implement the program.


MS HB 2369 (2007, enacted) - Among other provisions of this Mississippi Healthy Students Act, provides that school districts shall comply with the Mississippi Board of Education Policy on Competitive Food Sales as outlined in the Mississippi Board of Education Policies.

New Jersey

NJ SB 1218, AB 883 - identical (2006-2007, enacted, Public Law 2007, Chapter 45) - Establishes certain nutritional restrictions on food and beverages served, sold or given away to pupils in public and some nonpublic schools. Prohibits serving, selling or giving away as a free promotion anywhere on school property at any time before the end of the school day, or in the reimbursable After School Snack Program: (1) Foods of minimal nutritional value, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture; (2) All food and beverage items listing sugar, in any form, as the first ingredient and (3) all forms of candy as defined by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Directs schools to reduce purchases of products containing trans fats beginning September 1, 2007.

New Mexico

NM HB 61 (2005, enacted), Chapter 115.
Concerns school meal nutrition rules governing foods and beverages sold outside of school meal programs; relates to nutrition standards, portion sizes and times when students may access these items.

North Carolina

NC HB 1473 (2007, enacted) - This budget bill includes school nutrition standards requiring the State Board of Education, in direct consultation with a cross section of local directors of child nutrition services, to establish statewide nutrition standards for school meals, a la carte foods and beverages, and items served in the After School Snack Program administered by the Department of Public Instruction and child nutrition programs of local school administrative units. The nutrition standards will promote gradual changes to increase fruits and vegetables, increase whole grain products, and decrease foods high in total fat, trans fat, saturated fat, and sugar, effective in 2008-2009 for elementary schools, followed by middle and high school implementation.
NC HB 855 (2005, enacted), Session Law 2005-457.
Directs the Board of Education to establish statewide nutrition standards for school meals, a la carte foods and beverages, the After School Snack Program and child nutrition programs of local school districts.


OK SB 265 (2005,enacted), Chapter No. 45.  
Prohibits student access to foods with minimal nutritional value in elementary schools and in middle and junior high schools (except for diet sodas). Requires high schools to offer certain healthy beverage and snack options. Requires each public school to establish a Healthy and Fit School Advisory Committee of at least six members, composed of teachers, administrators, parents of students, health care professionals and business community representatives to study and make recommendations to the school principal regarding health education, physical education and physical activity and nutrition and health services.


OH SB 210 (2010, enacted) - Among other provisions related to school nutrition and health, establishes nutrition standards for certain school foods and beverages.


OR HB 2650 (2007, enacted, Chapter 455) - Specifies minimum standards for food and beverages sold in public schools, prohibits trans fat in school foods. Allows school district boards to adopt more restrictive standards.


PA HB 185 (2006, enacted, Act 114) - Provides for competitive food or beverage contracts and for nutritional guidelines for food and beverage sales in schools. Provides for certain health services and for advisory health councils. Provides for local wellness policies and directs the department of education to establish a clearinghouse of wellness policies and information, for an interagency coordinating council for child health and nutrition, for other duties of the department of education and for physical education. Provides for physiology and hygiene.

Rhode Island

RI HB 5050 (2007, enacted, Chapter 92), SB 81 (2007, enacted, Chapter 80) - Both bills require all Rhode Island senior high schools that sell or distribute beverages and snacks on their premises, including those sold through vending machines, to offer only healthier beverages and snacks effective Jan. 1, 2008.
RI HB 6968 (2006, enacted, Chapter 231) -  Places guidelines on the sale of sweetened beverages in schools and promotes nutritional, healthy choices for snacks sold in elementary, middle and junior high schools.
RI SB 2696 (2006, enacted, Chapter 234) - Prohibits the sale and distribution of certain beverages and food items at all elementary, middle, junior, and senior high schools beginning January 1, 2007, and requires the sale and distribution of healthy beverages and snacks.


TX SB 42 (2005, enacted)
Relates to health education, physical activity, and food products in public primary and secondary schools.  Requires school health curriculum for grades K-12 to include an emphasis on the importance of proper nutrition and exercise. Prohibits rules that prevent parents or grandparents from providing any food product of the parent's or grandparent's choice for birthday celebrations or school-designated functions.  Provides for adoption of rules for evaluation of nutritional services program compliance with Texas Department of Agriculture guidelines relating to foods of minimal nutritional value.

Note: In Texas, a Public School Nutrition Policy became effective August 1, 2004 under the auspices of the state’s Agriculture Commissioner, whom the governor authorized to administer the state’s National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and After School Snack Program. Texas’  2004 policy limited the number of grams of fat and sugar that schoolchildren could be served each week and phased in an elimination of deep-fat frying for preparation of meals, snacks, and a la carte items.  The policy also limited sales of competitive foods by school breakfast, lunch, and snack programs and provided that schools could lose federal reimbursement up to $1.20 at breakfast and $2.19 at lunch in federal reimbursements for each meal lost to competitive food sales.


TN HB 2783 (2004, enacted)
Requires the state board of education, cooperating with the department of education and department of health to establish minimum nutritional standards for individual food items sold or offered for sale to students in grades K-8.


WA SB 5436 (2004, enacted)
Requires the state’s school directors association, with the office of the superintendent of public instruction, the department of health, and others to develop a model policy regarding access to nutritious foods and opportunities for developmentally appropriate exercise by Jan. 1, 2005.  Each school district's board of directors is then to establish its own policy by Aug. 1, 2005.


VA HB 1607, VA SB 414 (2010, enacted) - Requires the State Board of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Health, to create and periodically update regulations setting nutritional guidelines for all competitive foods sold or served to students during regular school hours. Initial statewide standards for competitive foods must be adopted from either the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's guidelines or those of the Institute of Medicine.
VA HB 1300 (2012, enacted) - Subject to implementation by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, disallows fiscal disbursements out of the state’s appropriation for school nutrition to any locality in which the schools permit the sale of competitive foods in food service facilities or areas during the time of service of food funded by the state’s appropriation for full school meals.