Finding and purchasing the right foods is an important piece of the school nutrition puzzle. To ensure that you’re getting the healthiest foods available, meeting nutrition standards, and staying within your program's budget requires careful research and planning. Healthier Generation is here to help!


5 Steps to Find and Purchase the Right Foods


Step 1: The Process of Purchasing 

Purchasing all the ingredients you need to keep your school nutrition program running can be a complex process. Keep in mind that: 

  1. Your menu should drive your purchases. It’s your job to find the right foods and beverages to complete your breakfast, lunch, snack, supper and summer recipes and offerings. 

  1. You must buy those foods and beverages at a competitive price that works for your district’s budget. 


Step 2: Competitive Procurement Process 

A competitive procurement process should combine fairness and integrity and result in the purchase of high-quality foods and beverages at the lowest possible price.  

Solicitations should contain product specifications that are clear, concise and not unduly restrictive. They should also provide clear and transparent evaluation criteria for opening and evaluating bids and proposals and adequate time for responses from vendors. 

Check out these resources to help you with the competitive process: 


Step 3: Methods for Purchasing Goods & Services 

There are two main methods for your school nutrition program to purchase goods and services: district purchasing and cooperative purchasing. 

District purchasing issues solicitations for products/services through the district procurement process, while cooperative purchasing combines purchasing volume to increase buying power with other groups or agencies. 

Benefits of cooperative purchasing include: 

  • Increased buying power 

  • Decreased administrative costs 

  • Saving staff time and salaries 

Explore both options and decide what’s right for your school district. 


Step 4: Find the Right Foods 

Plan healthy menus, find new recipes, and more with the Alliance’s Smart Food Planner. This tool also allows you to use product calculators, save favorite recipes, and learn new ideas from other school districts. 


Step 5: Use Resources to Help 

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Use the resources and support available to you through the Healthy Schools Program. 

  • Reach out to our National Nutrition Advisor with questions and/or for a deeper dive in School Nutrition processes 

  • Check out Forecasting the Procurement of Foods from the Institute of Child Nutrition, which is a resource designed to help School Food Authorities with the general forecasting for procurement of foods 

  • Don’t forget about Farm to School: Check out Farm to School resources to learn about incorporating local and/or regional products into your school meal program 

  • Follow the Healthier Generation Blog for more information and read The ABC's of Purchasing School Food

Next Step: 

Learn how to market your food service program and provide excellent customer service.