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A Fresh Start

School food is messy and complex, but also an incredible opportunity for healthy eating. In this section, we’ll identify the processes and steps to make informed decisions in your meal program.

Menu planning and procurement are the foundation of food services. For a school district transitioning to a fresh food system, a defined vision will provide direction for the many future decisions in a school year.

A Fresh Start

School food is messy and complex, but also an incredible opportunity for healthy eating. In this section, we’ll identify the processes and steps to make informed decisions in your meal program.

Menu planning and procurement are the foundation of food services. For a school district transitioning to a fresh food system, a defined vision will provide direction for the many future decisions in a school year.

Creating a Vision

When we say: “I want the kids to have healthy food,” what does that really look like? What does “healthy” mean, and how is it determined? Is it the nutrition facts label? Is it whether the ingredient list has one ingredient or twenty? Is it whether the food was received whole, precut, or precooked? These are the questions that school food is addressing every day.

Developing a program vision requires critical evaluation of ingredients and program elements, such as marketing and meal service. Your overall goals should drive your vision.


Food Standards

Shaping and Defining Your Food Standards

A program vision provides guidance for day-to-day decisions, such as wellness goals and nutrition education. Food standards provide the benchmarks for ingredients.

The federal and state standards combine to provide the legal framework and requirements of procurement. When we discuss “defining your food standards,” we are not referring to the correct and compliant method of procurement relative to federal or state code, but rather, how your district, state, city, or county may define or describe the food that you purchase for your meal programs. The term “food policy” is another common reference for this. These standards are a measure beyond the federal food procurement standards that regulate a safe and healthful food supply.

Food Standards

Shaping and Defining Your Food Standards

A program vision provides guidance for day-to-day decisions, such as wellness goals and nutrition education. Food standards provide the benchmarks for ingredients.

The federal and state standards combine to provide the legal framework and requirements of procurement. When we discuss “defining your food standards,” we are not referring to the correct and compliant method of procurement relative to federal or state code, but rather, how your district, state, city, or county may define or describe the food that you purchase for your meal programs. The term “food policy” is another common reference for this. These standards are a measure beyond the federal food procurement standards that regulate a safe and healthful food supply.

Defining food standards helps guide menu planning and ultimately procurement. District and community stakeholders are increasingly involved in shaping and defining standards as school districts recognize the value in creating a healthy school environment on all levels, including the dining room. Revisiting the Local Wellness Policy to assess and set clear, achievable goals is one of the most common avenues for defining food standards in school districts, but a district can also adopt food or nutrition standards as a stand-alone policy.


Sample Wellness Policy

The following language is an example from Boulder Valley School District’s Wellness Policy that includes their food standards:

BVSD’s Wellness Policy regarding Food, Nutrition & Procurement

  • All of our food will be cooked with a priority on both healthfulness and deliciousness.
  • All menus will promote scratch-cooked meals made from fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and clean proteins to include plant-forward menu items.
  • BVSD has implemented the following practices, procedures and standards:
  • In practicing good food procurement methods, BVSD will support a regional food system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible. Thoughtful purchasing practices by BVSD can influence the creation and availability of a local, equitable, and sustainable good food system. BVSD will continue to emphasize the following values for food procurement: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, nutrition, and value-chain equity and innovation.
  • The procurement plan, shall seek to eliminate potential harmful food additives, colorings and dyes, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, refined sugar, brominated flour and artificial sweeteners.

As shown above, a food standard vision can comply and reach beyond the federal guidelines for nutrition, and will also provide a clear understanding of procurement goals and priorities.

Recommended Next Topic: Fresh Food Systems

Establishing relationships with suppliers that support your program vision and goals is critical. Be an informed buyer. Know your history, menus, specifications, and volumes needed.

Recommended Next Topic: Fresh Food Systems

Establishing relationships with suppliers that support your program vision and goals is critical. Be an informed buyer. Know your history, menus, specifications, and volumes needed.

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