OLR Research Report

February 21, 2003




By: Lawrence K. Furbish, Director

You asked for possible definitions of nutritious, or non-nutritious, food that could be used in a bill to restrict the sale of items in school vending machines to healthy products.

While we did not find a single, straightforward, clear definition that could be directly adapted for your use, we did find several descriptions of healthy, or unhealthy, food items that could meet your needs.

Federal regulations governing school breakfast and lunch programs define “food of minimal nutritional value” (7 CFR 210.11). For artificially sweetened foods, it is food that provides less than 5% of the Reference Daily Intakes (RDI) per serving for eight specific nutrients. For all other foods it is food that provides less than 5% of the eight nutrients per 100 calories and per serving. The eight nutrients are protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, calcium, and iron. The definition covers soda water; water ices not containing fruit juices; chewing gum; and certain candies, including hard candy, jellies and gums, marshmallow candies, licorice, spun candy, and candy-coated popcorn.

The problem with this definition is that it excludes many things that are commonly thought of as unhealthy, such as chips and candy bars. (Connecticut State Board of Education regulations already prohibit selling foods of minimal nutritional value, as defined in federal regulations, during breakfast and lunch periods (CT State Regulations 10-215d-1).

A Kentucky bill that did not pass last year expanded on this definition and would have prohibited the sale any time during the school day of (1) chewing gum, soda waters, and water ices, as defined in the federal regulation cited above; (2) “candy” defined as any item containing more than 40% added sugar by weight; (3) any juice or juice product containing less than 35% real juice; and (4) any other items, except seeds and nuts, containing more than eight grams of fat per serving (SB 157 (2002)).

California passed a law regulating “junk food” in elementary and middle schools in 2001, but it does not take effect until January 1, 2004, and then only if funds are appropriated to provide school districts with support and technical assistance (Senate Bill 19, Chapter 913, 2001). The law limits the food that may be sold in elementary schools during breakfast and lunch periods to full meals and individual food items meeting its standards. All food sold during morning and afternoon snack breaks must meet the standards. The standards for individual food items are:

1. except for seeds and nuts, not more than 35% of its calories can be from fat;

2. not more than 10% of its calories can be from saturated fat; and

3. not more than 35% of its total weight can be sugar.

These provisions do not apply to the sale of fruits and vegetables.

The California law goes on to say that, regardless of the time of day, the only beverages that may be sold to elementary schools pupils are water, milk, 100% fruit juices, and fruit-based drinks containing no less than 50% juice and no added sweeteners. In middle schools, carbonated beverages cannot be sold from one half hour before the beginning of the school day until after the last lunch period, and any vending machines containing products that do not meet the standards must be locked or inoperable until the end of the last lunch period. Sale of food items for fundraising purposes in an elementary school that do not meet the standards are permitted if the sale takes place off school premises or at least one half hour after the end of the school day.

Finally, on a web site for American Baby, we found a page on healthy vending machines (the source is apparently an American Academy of Pediatrics book entitled Guide to Your Child's Nutrition). It is a list of

things to buy from a vending machine and things not to buy. It could perhaps be incorporated into some type of definition as examples with added language such as “other similar items.”

Table 1: Healthy Vending Machine Choices



Potato chips

Baked tortilla chips

Artificially flavored and colored corn and cheese snacks


Candy bars

Granola bars, trail mix

Sweetened, fruit-flavored roll-ups

Dried or fresh fruit

Fruit-flavored drinks with added sugar, soda pop

Water, unsweetened fruit juice

Whole milk, full-fat yogurt

Skim or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, sherbet

Ice Cream

Italian ice, pure fruit juice pops, frozen yogurt

Cream-filled sandwich cookies, chocolate-chip cookies

Fig-bar cookies, graham crackers