The United States Department of Agriculture released new federal nutrition guidelines for snacks sold in school. Mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the Smart Snacks in School standards restrict sales of food in school cafeterias and vending machines, requiring that all snacks sold in school contain fruits, vegetables, lean protein, or whole grains, and have limited sugar, fat, and salt. The standards complement new national nutrition rules for school lunches and breakfasts and are an important part of an overall effort to encourage and promote healthier eating among America’s children.

What do these rules mean for your PTO, your fundraising efforts, and your school events and celebrations? Here are answers to some key questions.

Do the standards affect snacks and food sold after school hours, such as during sporting events or family nights?

The new federal standards do not affect food sales at events that happen outside of normal school hours, says Debbi Beauvais, a registered dietician nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. PTOs and PTAs can still sell candy, chips, snack cakes, chocolate bars, and whatever treats they want at Friday night football games, band concerts, and movie nights, as long as they comply with their own district rules.

Can we still hold bake sales at our school?

Occasional in-school bake sales and other fundraisers that sell sweet food and drinks are still allowed. The new standards give states the authority to set a “reasonable threshold” for the number of school-based fundraisers that sell snacks and beverages that do not meet the nutrition guidelines. You should work with your school or district administrative leaders to determine how many of these fundraisers your organization can hold each year.

There are no limits to the number of in-school fundraisers you can have with foods and drinks that meet the new nutrition requirements.

Can we sell candy, sweetened popcorn, cookie dough, or other sweets for our annual fundraiser?

All fundraising activity that occurs outside of school is exempt from the nutrition standards. That means you can keep selling popcorn, chocolate bars, or cookie dough to your neighbors, relatives, work colleagues, and friends. You can distribute fundraiser order forms and food items in school, as long as the food will be eaten outside the school building.

Can soda and sports drinks be sold in school?

The standards do not allow soda or sports drinks to be sold in elementary or middle schools during school hours. Low-calorie and calorie-free soda and sports drinks can be sold in high schools, but limits are placed on serving sizes.

Can students still bring in sweets for classroom birthday parties or other celebrations?

The federal standards do not apply to foods and drinks brought from home for student birthday parties and other classroom celebrations. However, many districts have wellness policies that limit the kinds of foods that can be served in classrooms, so be sure to check your district’s policy, Beauvais says.

We raise money for our organization through our vending machine sales. Will these new rules impact what we can sell in our vending machines?

Since students purchase items from vending machines during school hours, all food and drinks sold from your vending machines will have to meet the new standards. The USDA is offering training and technical assistance to schools looking to identify healthier snack choices for their vending machines. Your PTO should work with your school and district administrators and nutrition manager to contact the USDA for guidance in finding food and beverage companies that sell allowable items.

When do the new rules go into effect?

All school snacks must meet the new standards by the start of the 2014-15 school year.

To learn more about the standards, visit the USDA’s Smart Snacks in Schools page.