Community youth programs

After-school program guide - Standards

Few nutrition and physical activity standards exist for after-school programs. To help meet this need, school-based health standards or general health guidelines can be adopted by after-school programs. Click on the links below for physical activity and nutrition standards that can be applied to your after-school program.

Physical activity/screen time standards

Physical Activity Standard: The following are physical activity guidelines for children ages 5 to 12 from the National Association for Sport & Physical Education:

  • Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of age-appropriate physical activity on all or most days of the week. This daily accumulation should include moderate and vigorous physical activity with the majority of the time being spent in activity that is intermittent in nature.
  • Children should participate in several bouts of physical activity lasting 15 minutes or more each day.
  • Children should participate each day in a variety of age-appropriate physical activities designed to achieve optimal health, wellness, fitness, and performance benefits.
  • Extended periods (periods of two hours or more) of inactivity are discouraged for children, especially during the daytime hours.

Tips for Applying Physical Activity Standard:

  • Start and end your after-school program with a 15-minute stretch, activity, or interactive games. This will add 30 minutes toward the children's daily activity guidelines.
  • Build a short stretch break into the middle of your program to re-energize students.
  • Choose an after-school program that has activity built into it such as CATCH Kids Club and SPARK.
  • As part of your program, hold a competition between the children such as “Virtual Tour Around the World” where they earn miles for every minute of activity completed during the program and at home.
  • Ask children to create a list of their favorite physical activities. Have them add two activities they have wanted to try and set a goal to try them.
  • Provide a Physical Activity Tracker (PDF) to take home and use with their family.

Screen Time Standard: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children's entertainment media time is limited to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day.

Tips for Applying Screen Time Standard:

  • Avoid using TV, video games, or DVDs as entertainment during your after-school program.
  • If you must use media as part of your program, add an activity element to balance out the time.
  • Build media awareness into your after-school program with curricula such as Media-Smart Youth.
  • Ask students to create a list of their favorite activities that don't involve television, video games, DVDs, or computers. Ask them to add two things they have wanted to try but didn't have time for before limiting screen time.
  • Give them a Screen Time Tracker (PDF) to fill out together with their family.

Nutrition/snack standards

Standard: After-school snacks help ensure that children receive the nutrition they need to learn, play and grow. Standards from the Institute of Medicine, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the USDA agree that a healthy snack should be high in fiber and low in total fat, saturated and trans fat, and added sugar. Snacks should provide up to 10% of a child's daily intake and no more than 200 calories. Use this chart to guide healthy snack choices.

Offer each child a healthy snack with:

  1. At least one serving of a fruit or vegetable
  2. At least one serving of whole grains, milk, or meat

Ensure the healthiest choices are available by choosing from the Anytime category daily and choosing from the Sometimes category no more than 1-2 times a week.

These standards are aligned with the USDA guidelines, who will reimburse for snacks in after-school programs if they meet the following criteria:

Snacks must contain at least two different components of the following four*:

  • a serving of fluid milk
  • a serving of meat or meat alternate
  • a serving of vegetable(s) or fruit(s) or full-strength vegetable or fruit juice
  • a serving of whole grain or enriched bread or cereal
Category Anytime (4 or more times a week) Sometimes (1-2 times/week)

1 serving = ¾ cup or 1 medium piece

apple, banana, melon, orange, pear, fruit salad, berries, grapes

1 serving = ¼ cup dried

raisins, bananas, apples

1 serving = ¾ cup or 6 fl. oz.

canned fruit in natural juice, applesauce and applesauce blends, 100% fruit juice


1 serving = ¾ cup fresh or cooked

cucumber, celery, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, snap peas

1 serving = ½ cup or 4 fl. oz.

100% vegetable juice

Whole Grain or Bread

1 serving = ¾ cup, 1 slice, 1 bar

100% whole grain bread, 100% whole grain crackers, 100% whole grain pita, or whole grain unsweetened cereal

1 serving = ¾ cup, 1 slice, 1 bar

whole grain granola bar, air-popped popcorn, graham crackers, fig cookies


1 serving = ¾ cup, 6-8 fl. oz.

low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese; fat-free or 1% fat milk (plain or flavored); fat-free or low-fat yogurt

1 serving = ¾ cup, 6-8 fl. oz.

2% low-fat milk (plain or flavored); low-fat string cheese; low-fat cheese

Meat or Meat Alternate

1 serving = 1 ounce, 1 slice or 1 Tbsp

bean dip, baked chicken or turkey, lean lunch meats, tuna in water, egg whites

1 serving = 1 ounce, 1 slice or 1 Tbsp

whole egg, peanut butter with no added sugar, nuts

Water – suggested for all snacks even if other beverages served to encourage drinking water.

*Based on the nutritional needs of 6 to 12 year olds.

Tips for Applying Standard:

  • Visit the USDA Healthy Meals Resource System for resources to help you create healthy, delicious menus that meet USDA requirements. The Web site includes sample menus and food buying tips, as well as menu planning resources for School Food Service Professionals and Child Care Providers.
  • Make snack time fun by creating teachable moments for children to try new foods and flavors.
  • Ask children to write down a list of their favorite healthy snacks and have them help you to plan and prepare the snack menu.
  • Choose a theme, such as Snacks of the World. Children can learn what children in other countries typically snack on and even taste the food.
  • Choose an after-school program with nutrition lessons and snacks, such as Media-Smart Youth or Operation Frontline: Kids Up Front.
  • Start or join a local community garden so students can grow vegetables and herbs. Chances are they will enjoy what they grow themselves!
Share your story

“The Collection Connection 4-H Club had a great time celebrating Go for the Greens. They brought healthy and nutritious "green" foods to share; made spinach and mushroom pizza as a snack; and even shared their health lesson with the local food pantry by collecting canned vegetables for a donation.”

Dawn Olson
Penn State Cooperative Extension
Monroe County