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Healthy, Reimbursable Meals: A Smart Business Decision in Miami

School food changes course

In 2010 Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to ensure that students in America’s schools have access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults. The law addressed both foods served as part of the National School Lunch Program, and foods sold throughout the school building, such as in school stores, during in-school fundraisers, and in vending machines (often called competitive foods).

During the 2012–2013 school year, schools across the country aligned their school meals with new federal standards to ensure kids are being fed healthy food at school. And as a result of the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards that went into effect July 1 for the 2014–15 school year, more schools across America are offering healthier snacks and beverages.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has been working with schools to implement nutrition standards for school snacks and drinks since 2006, which helped inform USDA’s updated standards. Many schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, such as Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida have found that students are more than willing to buy and eat healthier foods and beverages.

A recipe for improvement

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in America, comprised of 372 schools, with 350,000 students and over 54,000 employees. The district stretches over 2,000 square miles of diverse and vibrant communities ranging from rural and suburban to urban cities and municipalities. A truly global community, district students speak 56 different languages and represent 160 countries.

Nutrition services for Miami-Dade rival many large chain restaurants. The district operates over 340 food service operations, with a budget of over $189 million, which includes breakfast, lunch, afterschool snacks and dinner programs, Saturday and summer meal services. In the 2013-14 school year alone, they served over 50 million meals!

Penny Parham, administrative director for food and nutrition services, has dedicated years to developing a formula that allows her to sell healthy meals and snacks and balance her budget. “We have a chef partnership and a food truck. We do students taste testings, and try all sorts of promotions. Kids want good, clean food they can eat and enjoy,” she shared.

She is quick to add that selling healthy foods does not mean you can’t also turn a profit: “You can sell a healthy meal and get your reimbursements. It’s ok for kids to buy something extra, but where does it say that extra food has to be a cookie and a bag of chips? For our kids, it doesn’t have to. School food programs can still make cash sales, they just need to sell good, healthy food!”

Fundraising efforts for Miami-Dade have changed since joining the Healthy Schools Program. At Glades Middle School, the PTA has implemented district wellness policy (and Healthy Schools Program) standards and completely revamped food fundraisers. Sugar-sweetened beverage sales were replaced with 100 percent fruit juice and candy sales were eliminated altogether. To raise funds, students and staff participate in “dress up” days where they pay a small fee to wear jeans or support their favorite sports team. The school also benefits from memory and yearbook sales as well as Valentine’s Grams and themed dances for students.

At North Beach Elementary School, physical activity is incorporated in fundraising through dances and an annual walk-a-thon. “The PTA makes upwards of $15,000 on the walk-a-thon,” said Michele Rivera, wellness champion and physical education teacher for the school. Other successful non-food fundraisers include flower sales, jewelry sales, bazars, and silent auctions.

A snapshot of success

For the district, a focus on healthy, reimbursable meals has been a smart business decision. Even though cash sales from à la carte foods are down about $17 million over the last 10 years, revenue from reimbursable meals is up over $27 million – that’s a $10 million shift. And for the 2013-14 school year, meal reimbursements are up 11 percent mostly due to higher sales of school breakfasts and afterschool snacks and a six-cent meal reimbursement increase for districts meeting updated federal nutrition requirements for healthy school meals.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is also receiving national attention and proving that healthy students are high-performing students. The district is widely considered the nation’s highest-performing urban school system, and was named as the 2014 College Board Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year as well as the 2012 winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

This year, high school students improved math and science end of course exam scores, outpacing the state average from 2013 to 2014. Elementary and middle school students surpassed their counterparts statewide, and in other large districts, on reading and math assessments; the percent scoring high also met or exceeded that of students statewide in grades four through eight. Students in grade eight showed twice as much writing improvement as what was seen statewide and the district’s third-grade students are leading the state in math scores!

Your school can also work towards building a healthier environment for you students by joining the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program. Sign up now!

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One-page Snapshot of Success (PDF)