Boosting Revenue, Reducing Waste
Aside from home, kids spend most of their time at school where they consume up to 50 percent of their daily calories.
Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to encourage schools to serve nutritious foods and drinks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs and for food and drinks sold to students in snack bars, vending machines, and à la carte cafeteria lines. As a result, more schools across America now offer healthier snacks and beverages, contributing to students’ wellbeing and academic success.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has been working with schools to implement nutrition standards for school snacks and drinks since 2006, and we’ve found that thousands of schools, such as Whitley County School District in Williamsburg, Kentucky, are successfully implementing the standards.
Healthy changes that work
Over the past 16 years, Sharon Foley, food service director for Whitley County School District, has helped pave the way for healthier foods to be served at her district’s nine schools where 78 percent of students qualify for free and reduced price meals.
"School is a good place to learn; it's a place where children can see older children eating new food and they want to be like them so they try the food."
- Sharon Foley, Food Service Director
As the director, she took a proactive approach to introducing healthier foods by rolling out small changes over the past decade. First, cafeterias switched from refined to whole grain products, then focused on increasing fruits and vegetables and reducing sodium. It wasn’t always easy to convince students—and sometimes staff—to try the new varieties. Years later, Foley says whole grain products have come a long way now that manufacturers are responding to the increasing demand.
By making tweaks to favorite items, there was no need for a major menu overhaul. For example, Whitley County schools added a grilled chicken sandwich to the rotation, but still serve chicken nuggets on occasion to appease students that enjoy the breaded variety.
Foley underscores the need for variety and flexibility in menu planning. To encourage students to try more vegetables, give them more options. She encourages cafeteria managers to pre-slice fruits like oranges into cups to make them more accessible for small fingers and short attention spans. And for vegetables like broccoli, a little made-from-scratch cheese sauce goes a long way!
“School is a good place to learn; it’s a place where children can see older children eating new food and they want to be like them so they try the food,” said Foley.
Investments in nutrition yield big returns
Foley says revenue and participation haven’t been problematic for her schools, despite the menu changes. Two years ago, Whitley County enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which increased participation by receiving the maximum reimbursement available for each student. Her district serves few items à la carte and has no vending machines in cafeterias, so Smart Snacks in School standards didn’t disrupt revenue in most of its schools.
Whitley County combats plate waste by offering “share tables,” where students donate un-opened drinks or foods from breakfast on community tables. Other students can pick up items during breakfast or lunch to supplement their meals, preventing the food from ending up in garbage cans.
Foley persevered despite initial hurdles because she knew that healthy food was better for her students. “You want the children to be healthy and able to learn. And the nutrition standards are meant to make the children healthier,” she said. “The schools in our district that have received distinguished schools awards are the ones that have higher breakfast participation—I think there’s a correlation there.”