Success Strategies for Schools to Sell Healthier Food and Maintain Revenues

New resources highlight schools across the country that changed the way students are eating in school

The Illinois Public Health Institute announces the release of tip sheets based on key findings from research showing that schools can eliminate junk food in cafeterias, vending and other school venues without losing money. The series of five tip sheets highlight strategies for schools to market and sell healthier foods and beverages to middle and high school students.

This information will support districts and schools across the country as they implement the United States Department of Agriculture’s  Smarts Snacks in School nutrition standards.  The tip sheets build on a 2013 report - Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line - a compilation of case studies from eight school districts across the country that improved nutrition standards for their snack food and beverages, known as “competitive foods,” without significant negative financial impact. Strategies such as adding sandwich bars and salad bars, placing fruits next to the cash register instead of cookies, encouraging more students to purchase meals through the National School Lunch Program, decorating school cafeterias with colorful posters of fruits and vegetables, and engaging students in decision-making are highlighted as low-cost ways that schools can promote and support students’ healthy choices.

“More and more schools across the country are seeing for themselves that it is possible to sell healthy foods and maintain revenues. These new tip sheets will help school districts to market and prepare healthier foods and snacks that are pleasing to students, in keeping with Smart Snacks standards that districts are implementing this year,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute.

Topics in the tip sheets are:

  • Finances: Strategies to Maintain Revenues with Healthier Competitive Foods Standards
  • Creating and Implementing Policies for Healthier Competitive Foods Standards
  • Improving Access to Healthy Foods and Beverages Through Healthier Competitive Foods Standards
  • Student Education and Engagement to Support Healthier Competitive Foods Standards
  • Improving Cafeteria Strategies to Support Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

“By working together with students, families and our community, we can support more healthy food choices in our schools,”  said Alison Burdick, principal at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, Connecticut, “It’s about understanding what kids like to eat, always seeking new ways to give kids opportunities to eat healthy, educating the cafeteria staff, changing how they’re interacting with the students, and an intentional look at menu choices so that the kids are never bored and there’s always something new.”

The tip sheets highlight easy, can-do strategies that food service directors, principals, PTAs and PTOs, and students can implement to improve the offerings in cafeterias and vending across school grounds. Promoting healthier choices, nutrition awareness and education, and improvements in school meals are all necessary to create a healthier school climate where students are served and consume appealing healthy food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.  The percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5 percent in 1980 to nearly 21 percent in 2012. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight or obese.

Responding to these high rates of childhood obesity, the Illinois Public Health Institute embarked on a study to learn how school districts are successfully retaining their bottom line on profits while improving the nutrition of foods served and sold to students.

Thirty-one principals, food service directors, and staff from eight districts across the country contributed their experiences and insights to the study. The school districts are located in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Oregon. Key themes from the study provide helpful guidance for other districts that are implementing healthier standards for snack and á la carte foods:

  • Profits dipped initially but rebounded with time. Most districts reported that revenues from competitive foods rebounded substantially in two years or less.
  • Increasing participation in the school meal program was a key element of maintaining profits across all food service accounts, offsetting lost snack food profits. Thus, many of the strategies for success with transitioning to healthier school snacks are actually related to improving or promoting the school meals.
  • Most schools implemented changes incrementally. While changes were implemented over a two- to three-year period, schools that will be newly implementing standards through the Smart Snacks in School program can use many of the effective roll-out strategies to make the transition as smooth as possible.
  • Engaging multiple stakeholders to implement a variety of strategies was important to successfully transitioning to healthier products.
  • Doing the right thing” with regard to student nutrition was more important than profit among the schools in the study, according to food service directors and school administrators.

On November 14, 12pm-1:30pm CST, the Illinois Public Health Institute will host a webinar for schools, nutritionists, public health professionals, and other interested individuals about the strategies in the tip sheets. The webinar will feature presenters from CDC and participating school districts.   Register here: