Durham Increases Revenue and Healthy Options

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 Durham Public Schools in Durham, North Carolina, have found that students are more than willing to buy and eat the healthier foods and beverages.

A recipe for improvement

Durham Public Schools is home to more than 33,000 students and 5,200 teachers, administrators, and staff in 54 schools across the city and county. Three-quarters of the student population are minorities and two-thirds of their students come from low-income families at high risk for obesity and other chronic diseases. Traditionally, these students and families lack access to physical activity and nutritious meals, however Durham Public Schools is working to establish life-long healthy habits and support a culture of health for their community. Healthy Schools Program Manager Shauvon Simmons-Wright works with 100 percent of Durham Public Schools to implement these healthy changes.

The face of the district’s à la carte program has improved considerably over the past 10 years. The cafeteria replaced French fries and nachos with healthier items such as water, milk, and extra portions of the day’s reimbursable meal.

At the district level, Wellness Coordinator Kate Turner has worked with the Operations department to develop a convenient way for schools to purchase snack foods for events or celebrations that are compliant with the district wellness policy. Each school receives an order form to purchase USDA’s Smart Snacks in School-approved healthy foods and beverages direct from the child nutrition department. This streamlined approach “allows schools to purchase snacks for school stores, afterschool programs, and concession stands that are compliant without searching for them on their own, and at a reduced cost,” explained Jim Keaten, director of Child Nutrition Services for the district.

The district policy has also changed the way schools celebrate and reward students. Active rewards like school dances and Wii dance parties have replaced the celebrations of the past that included cupcakes or other sweet treats.

A snapshot of success

Durham’s long-term vision for healthier schools and a healthier community, coupled with strong policy and systems support is truly paying off. The graduation rate of 79.6 percent in 2013 has consistently risen for the last six years.

Students have embraced the healthy changes and long-held practices are starting to change. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, over the past four years there has been a steady decrease in the percent of Durham County high school students who drink soda or other sugar sweetened beverages one or more times per week.

Students have even begun to organize healthy efforts on their own. For example, students at Southern High School led an effort to add healthy options, and even lower the price of healthy snacks and drinks, at concession stands. As a result the new district-wide wellness policy requires food sales at after-hours events to contain at least three nutritious options and water.

The district’s changes have yielded financial success as well. Today, the district is on pace to sell about $500,000 annually from à la carte and through creative increases in participation in school lunch, breakfast, and the afterschool snack program, reimbursable meal revenue is over $11 million. While the district is down about $600,000 in à la carte, they are up almost $4 million in healthy, reimbursable meals since the 2007-8 school year!


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