According to a report issued by the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students will buy and consume healthful foods and beverages and schools can make money from selling healthful options. Their survey of 17 schools and school districts found that, after improving school foods, 12 schools and districts increased revenue and four reported no change. One school district initially lost revenue after improving its foods, but later its revenues increased and even surpassed previous levels.
The report, entitled Making It Happen: School Nutrition
Success Stories, is a joint project of Team Nutrition of the Food and Nutrition Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Division of Adolescent and School Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and is supported by the United States Department of Education (ED).
Making It Happen echoed the message we've been bringing to schools with our Healthy School Lunch Program for over a decade. It states that “Poor eating habits, along with physical inactivity, contribute to obesity and other serious health problems. In the past 20 years, the prevalence of overweight has more than doubled among American children and tripled among adolescents”.
By working with parents, school nutrition committees, wellness committees, administrators and food service personnel, our Healthy School Lunch team has helped to introduce healthy foods into school cafeterias. Another focus of our program's work has been on foods served outside of the lunchroom. We found that some schools were working in earnest on their lunch programs while still holding bake sales with products made of white flour and white sugar, selling junk foods in vending machines, allowing foods of low nutritional value to be used for classroom rewards, and regularly allowing classroom parties with highly refined and sweetened foods. With the advent of the Federal Wellness Policies, we've seen these extra-cafeteria nutritional practices finally get addressed. The report notes that improvements in these areas are being made in many districts. “Concern has been raised about the nutritional quality of foods and beverages sold in schools outside of federally regulated meal programs. The good news is that many schools are making changes that make healthy choices the easy choice for students.”
Making It Happen — School Nutrition Success Stories tells the stories of 32 such schools and school districts from across the United States. K-12 schools, reflecting broad diversity in geographical location and demographics of the communities served, implemented innovative approaches to improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages sold outside of federal meal programs.
“A key insight from Making It Happen is that students
will buy and consume healthful foods and beverages — and schools can
make money from selling healthful options. Of the 17 schools and school districts
that reported income data, 12 increased their revenue as a result of the
changes and four reported no change.”
Overall, this report shows the incredible progress that our government agencies have made by examining nutrition in all areas of a child's school experience. It is very satisfying to see that the recommendations we've been making for so many years, are now stated in a such a report as simply the way it ought to be! (Read about our Healthy School Lunch Program at http://www.healthy-planet.org/HSLP/index.asp and you'll see what we mean!)
One example is regarding our long-time mantra that it takes just one
empowered individual to make a big difference. We've seen it over and over
again. One person with the right support can entirely transform a school
district. The report concurs and refers to these individuals as “champions”, calling them “the driving force” behind
the changes made in schools. We agree wholeheartedly and invite you to let
us coach you on becoming the champion in your school district. We've been
doing this for years at our monthly Healthy School Lunch Program support
meetings. (Check our website for the date and time of our next meeting.)
Read on and you'll see why we feel this report portends great things for all who believe that all school food offerings should represent only the best of what we know about nutrition.
Here are some key points from Making It Happen's Executive Summary:
- One champion, such as a parent, foodservice manager, or school principal, is usually the driving force behind the change.
- Improving school nutrition involves multiple steps; teams with diverse skills and backgrounds are well positioned to undertake such change.
- A useful starting point is to assess the current nutrition environment of the school to identify strengths and weaknesses.
- Attention to the change process is important in order to help sustain the change.
- Improvements are occurring, but more data are needed
to document their impact.
- Change is occurring at all levels: school, school district, State, and national.
Making It Happen begins by describing the importance of healthy eating for young people and how schools can support good nutrition, and provides information on the change process and school nutrition policies. The success stories are divided into six chapters based on the primary approach used to promote healthy eating, although in most cases schools and school districts used more than one of the following approaches:
Establish nutrition standards for competitive foods
- Establish nutrition standards for competitive foods.
- Influence food and beverage contracts.
- Make more healthful foods and beverages available.
- Adopt marketing techniques to promote healthful choices.
- Limit student access to competitive foods.
- Use fundraising activities and rewards that support student health.
Nutrition standards list criteria that determine which
foods and beverages can and cannot be offered on a school campus. Schools and
districts featured in Making
It Happen established nutrition standards to:
Influence food and beverage contracts
- Ensure that foods available adhere to healthful nutrient and portion size specifications.
- Prohibit the use of “foods of minimal nutritional value” (i.e., soft drinks, gum, and some types of candy) in schools or as fundraisers.
- Adopt a “fruits and vegetables only” snack policy for snacks brought from home. In a number of cases, nutrition standards were instituted as part of a comprehensive nutrition policy. Such policies addressed nutrition education, healthy school nutrition environments, staff development on nutrition, parent and community involvement, and school-based screening, counseling, and referrals for nutrition.
Food and beverage contracts give vendors selling rights in return for cash and non-cash benefits to the school or district. Schools and school districts can influence vending contracts by canceling them, not signing them, not renewing them, or negotiating contracts that promote healthful eating.
Examples of approaches used to influence food and beverage contracts in Making It Happen include:
Make more healthful foods and beverages available
- Transfer the management of vending machines to the school food service program, giving it the opportunity to improve the nutritional quality and increase revenue without external contracts.
- Improve the nutritional quality of beverages available under an existing contract.
- Write a request for proposals for vending that pays a higher commission to the district for healthful beverages, increases the percentage of healthful items available, charges a lower price for the healthier beverages, and uses machines with fronts that depict children being physically active.
Making more healthful foods and beverages available makes it easier for students to make healthful food choices. Making It Happen shows that healthful foods and beverages can be added wherever food is available, including à la carte lines, vending machines, snack bars, student stores, concession stands at extra-curricular events, and school parties.
Making It Happen is filled with examples of schools
and school districts that made more healthful foods and beverages available.
Schools and school districts are now offering a wider variety of healthful food
and beverage choices, including:
- 100% fruit juices,
- Fresh fruit and vegetables,
- Vegetables and dip,
- Vegetable salads,
- Fruit salads,
- Whole grain breads,
- Trail mix,
- Granola bars, and
- Air-popped popcorn.
At the same time they are removing items such as candy, soft drinks, sweetened drinks, fried chips, deep fried foods, and snack cakes.
Adopt marketing techniques to promote healthful choices
Schools can promote the consumption of healthful foods and beverages by using the following marketing principles:
- identify and offer healthful products that are appealing and meet student needs,
- use product placement to make healthful products easy to choose,
- use promotion strategies so that students know about these products and are motivated to try them, and
- set their price at a level that encourages students to purchase them.
Making It Happen schools and school districts adopted a variety of marketing techniques, such as:
Limit student access to competitive foods
- Conduct surveys to determine student opinions about healthful products.
- Offer samples of potential items to assess student response.
- Install state of the art vending machines and place them in high traffic locations.
- Place healthier items in vending machines at eye level and less healthful items on the bottom row.
- Involve students and staff in promotional activities using signs, contests, games, health fairs, advertisements, flyers, banners, and other means.
- Price healthful foods lower than the less healthful items.
Limiting access means making it more difficult for students to obtain competitive foods or beverages sold outside of federal meal programs. Schools can limit access by reducing the number of places where students can obtain the foods, changing the location where food is sold so it is less accessible, or prohibiting the sale of foods and beverages at certain times during the school day. Currently, federal regulations only require that school prohibit access to “foods of minimal nutritional value” in food service areas during meal times. Approximately 20 states have adopted more stringent regulations.
The Making It Happen schools and school districts limited
access in a number of ways, such as:
Use fundraising activities and rewards that support student health
- Limit the number of snacks that elementary students can purchase.
- Reduce the portion size of dessert items.
- Reduce the number of soft drink vending machines.
- End student access to “foods of minimal nutritional value” in all school locations throughout the school day.
- Have vending-machine free elementary schools.
Fundraising supports student health when it involves selling nutritious foods and beverages or selling non-food items. Reward programs support student health when they involve using non-food items or activities to recognize students for their achievements or good behavior.
Making It Happen schools and school districts implemented
alternatives such as:
- Reward students by organizing walks with the principal rather than holding pizza parties.
- Sell fruit and gift wrap rather than candy or non-nutritious items as a fundraiser.
- Add juice, water, cheese trays, and fresh fruit and vegetable trays to classroom parties, and remove soft drinks and chips.
- Switch from selling items from a candy cart to selling items from a breakfast cart to raise money for a school student council.
The Making It Happen stories are supported by examples of actual policies, regulations, letters to parents, nutrition standards, nutrition resources, and contact information from the schools and districts. All the information is designed to establish healthy school nutrition environments as a normal expectation of schools. Making It Happen includes a form that invites readers to send in their success stories as a source of inspiration and motivation to others.
Improving the school nutrition environment is critically important because, as one principal said, “You cannot put a price on the benefits of good nutrition”. While initiating and implementing change may seem challenging, Making It Happen shows that it can be done, with positive results. A student from one of the Making It Happen schools captured the spirit when she said, “We can do anything! If we have a goal, we can meet it.”