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Improving School Food with Lots of Options and Slow Changes

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Former Food Service Director Susan Wood of Hoover City School District in Alabama feels like her district was ahead of the pack when it came to snack foods because the state of Alabama introduced guidelines for a la carte items ten years ago. Schools had to stop selling fries, chips, soda and sweet tea. “The students grumbled a little bit,” Wood recalls, “but then they just switched what they were buying.” Wood admits, however, that if it had not been a state imposed restriction she probably would not have had the support to make the change.

At the time there were not that many products that complied with the state guidelines to offer in vending machines so “the machine sales dried up and we pulled them out.” This year, now that more companies are creating healthier vending items, the high school is doing a pilot of new, healthy vending machines. “Now we are at the point where students entering high school don’t even know that this school used to offer fried foods and cookies. That helps. They have only known whole grains at lunch!”

Since Hoover City School District joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, school wellness councils have taken another look at school fundraising and have adopted healthier fundraising practices. At South Shades Crest Elementary, for example, parents can now place an order with the lunchroom for fruit slushes and other healthy snacks for birthday celebrations. “This has been a well-received alternative to cupcakes and it brings in money for the lunchroom,” said Wood. “It’s not a lot of money but any extra helps our bottom line.”

Susan’s Recipe for Success:

  • You can’t do it ”boom, boom, boom,” all at once. It really helps to phase new foods in slowly.
  • Give students lots of choices, so they do not feel deprived.
  • Expand your customer base to parents looking for birthday treats.

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