Do your kids just love snacks? Do you find that Smart Snacks sell out faster than main dishes in your child nutrition program? Do your students get excited when new snacks find their way to your program?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re not alone! We learn from author Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RDN that millennials are a generation of “snackers”. And 80% of Generation Z, who are your primary consumers in the child nutrition industry, are born to millennial parents, as we learned from our recent eBook about marketing to Generation Z. These millennial parents are passing down their affinity for snacking to their children, meaning that most people under the age of 34 just love to snack.

How Often Are They Snacking?

We’ve also learned about millennial snackers that (and their Gen Z kiddos), according to, they are “reshaping food culture by opting for snacks over the traditional three meals per day.” Rather than eating for sustenance, these younger generations have developed a love for snacking for the experience, as they seek out “innovative and unique” options. Snacking significantly more than any other generation, millennials consume an average of 3.05 snacks per day.

What Do They Want?

Their palates for snack item choices are changing as well; rather than reaching for the classic potato chips, snack cakes and candy, this young generation is opting for healthier options – such as “dark chocolate pistachio clusters and baked black bean chips from the local farmers market”. Students in your program – especially older students – are becoming more conscious of the foods and snacks they consume, meaning that many read nutrition labels, or actively seek out snacks that are “lower in calories, hydrogenated oils and salt.”

In addition to just loving to snack, grab and go snacks are often the most convenient choice for students. The Sun Chronicle tells us that in many districts, students have just 20 minutes to leave class, visit their lockers, go through the cafeteria line, socialize with their friends, eat, and get back to class. Because of this, they want something they can grab and eat quickly – and a lot of the time, the easiest option for quick consumption is not the salad or a plate of veggies.

How to Choose the Right Smart Snacks for Your Program

To appeal to this generation of “gourmet snackers” and “time-crunched convenience snackers” – as well as boost participation in your child nutrition program – you’ve got to provide them with choices that they would actually enjoy! Of course, you’re still going to offer the healthy and nutritious full meals that you serve in your lines day in and day out. But it’s also a good idea to consider offering snacks for the students to purchase, whether they eat them in the cafeteria or choose to “grab and go”, and eat these snacks later in the day.

In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act updated the standards for what constitutes a “smart snack”, or a snack (that is not considered ‘junk food’) to be served in schools across the United States. Any foods sold in schools must:

  • -Be a “whole grain-rich” grain product; or
  • -Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
  • -Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
  • -Contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients of public health concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber).

We also know that snack items must contain 200 or less calories, and 230 or less mg of sodium to meet the Smart Snack standards. (For a refresher on all-things Smart Snack compliance, please check out this handy flyer.)

It’s important to offer snacks that appeal to this generation and meet all of the standards of smart snack compliance. It’s also important to select snack options that fill them up while also supplying a steady flow of energy to get them through the day. When selecting which types of snacks to offer, consider the following:

1) Offer unique options.

It’s one thing to just offer students an apple or banana as a grab and go snack. But as we’ve learned about this snacky generation, they are drawn to interesting and unique choices. Although it’s an easier option, you don’t have to go with prepackaged options, as homemade options from your kitchen perform well, too!  Cater to your students’  “gourmet” palates by offering snack options like endive and carrots with roasted red pepper hummus, berries and granola with Greek yogurt, fresh pear slices with brie, or rice cakes with almond butter (or a nut butter substitute) and honey. (Snacks provided by

2) Aim for convenience.

Outside of school, students opt for the easiest option. And most of the time, this is not the healthiest option; think slices of pizza, tacos, ice cream. To appeal to their need for convenience, Forbes suggests considering healthy meal replacements that are “low-prep and prepackaged, with little to no clean up.” To cater to this, the North Attleboro High School food service department offers a much healthier alternative to the convenient snack of pizza – made from a homemade raw whole-grain dough and low-sodium cheese. With a little research, there are ways to find even healthier and more innovative alternatives to the grab and go smart snacks you already offer. And if they’re easy to eat on the go, you’re appealing to the market even more!

3) Think high protein.

To promote healthy snack habits in and out of school, University Health News suggests selecting smart snacks that are high in protein. Snacks with high protein content help students to feel full, and keep them for reaching for unhealthy snacks later in the day. A few smart snacks that are high in protein include Greek yogurt or kefir, nuts, hard boiled eggs, granola bars, or hummus with vegetables.

4) Creatively market your snacks.

Once you’ve selected your smart snacks, you’ll want to market them to your students to boost awareness and draw a crowd. We can take a lesson from Oscar Mayer, a Kraft Foods subsidiary that knows its deli meats – they launched a new line of products, P3 (portable protein packs) with snacks like nut clusters, fruit medleys, and deli snackers with meats and cheeses. You could just call them portable protein packs…but with a cool, modern name like “P3”, you can further appeal to the innovation generation! Work with your team to come up with creative names for the snacks you offer, or fun ways to market them through social media, digital signage or menus at your school, etc.

Share Your Thoughts!

Which smart snacks work best in your program? Which snacks haven’t been well-received by your students? We’d love to hear from you. Share your feedback in the comments below!