The School Food and Beverage Policy: A new way to look at food and beverages sold in schools

As of September 2011, all food and beverages sold in publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools will have to follow the Ontario government’s School Food and Beverage Policy. This new policy includes a set of nutrition standards for providing healthier food and beverages SOLD at school. 

While the food and beverages that kids bring from home don’t need to follow the nutrition standards, this may be a good opportunity for you and your children to talk about what makes a healthy lunch and then pack a healthier lunch together.   When children are involved in meal preparation, they are most likely to eat those foods. Canada’s Food Guide can provide the advice you need to make the healthiest choices. 

A new way to look at food and beverages

The Ministry of Education has worked with educators, Registered Dietitians, school administrators and food service caterers to divide food and beverages into three categories according to their nutrient content.   These are the different categories for both food and beverages:

Sell Most:

Food and beverages in this category have the highest levels of essential nutrients and the lowest amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium.   

Some of the food and beverages that might fit into this category include: fresh vegetables, unsweetened applesauce, plain yogurt, light cheddar cheese, whole grain bagels, chick peas, lean meatballs, pumpkin seeds, water, milk and 100% juice.

Sell Less:

Food and beverages in this category have some essential nutrients but are also a little higher in fat, sugar and/or sodium. These are food and beverages that you can enjoy once in awhile as part of healthy eating. Food and beverages that might fit into this category include: dried fruit, baked potato chips, white tortillas, popcorn, low fat pudding, lean deli meat and decaf coffee (but only in secondary school).

Not Permitted for Sale:

Food and beverages in this category contain few or no essential nutrients and have high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium. Some food and beverages that might fit into this category include: French fries, fruit rolls, cheese breads, doughnuts, ice cream, chicken wings, fish sticks, salted nuts, energy drinks and coffee.

The Ministry of Education has put together a Quick Reference Guide to help food service providers, educators and parents figure out the category a food or beverage belongs in. With this guide you can look up products and see which nutrient criteria are required to fit the different categories.  

The 80/20 Rule

The food and beverages that will be sold in school cafeterias, vending machines, canteens, catered events and in other venues, programs and events need to follow the 80/20 rule. This means that 80% of food and beverages need to fit the Sell Most standards and that no more that 20% would fit into the Sell Less category. 

Food and beverages that fall into the Not Permitted for Sale category will no longer be sold. Please note that foods and beverages are assessed separately. For more details about these categories, click here.

Using the standards: An example

Here are some tips to help you figure out which category a food or beverage belongs to. This may be useful for you if you are preparing food that will be sold at a school event like a bake sale:

Step 1: The food or beverage needs to meet the Trans Fat Standards or it will not be permitted for sale.   To calculate Trans Fat, see page 20 of the Quick Reference Guide or the resources here.   You can also use this trans fat calculator.

Step 2: Identify the group and sub-group that the food or beverage fits into. Starting on page seven, the Quick Reference Guide lists the group and sub-groups of common products. 

Step 3: Use the Nutrition Facts table on the food or beverage and compare the numbers with the nutrient criteria for the group or sub-group. For help with reading nutrition labels watch these videos.

Step 4: Decide which group your product fits into. Is it a Sell Most, Sell Less or Not Permitted for Sale food?

Let’s use this label for unsweetened applesauce as an example:












Step 1: This food product has 0 g of trans fat. Using this trans fat calculator, we can see that this product meets the Trans Fat Standards.

Step 2: Applesauce is part of the Vegetables and Fruit food group. The sub-group it belongs to is Fresh, Frozen, Canned and Dried Vegetables and Fruit.  

Step 3: Compare the fat, saturated fat and sodium of the unsweetened applesauce with the nutrition standards listed in the Quick Reference Guide. For the applesauce to be a Sell Most food, it needs to have:

  • 3 g of fat or less AND
  • 2 g of saturated fat or less AND
  • 360 mg of sodium or less

Step 4: The applesauce meets all the criteria of a Sell Most food. 

Bottom line:

The School Food and Beverage Policy will bring healthier choices to your children’s school to help them learn and grow.  

You may also be interested in:

What parents need to know about the school food and beverage policy

Healthy lunch ideas for the new school year

You can ask... for healthy foods for your kids


Last Update – October 10, 2016

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