Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line – findings from school districts that have had success


In October, the Illinois Public Health Institute released the five tip sheets below to help schools implement Smart Snacks in School while minimizing negative financial impact. Strategies are shared from eight school districts across the country that improved nutrition standards for their snack and à la carte food and beverages, known as “competitive foods,” and maintained food service revenue. The tip sheets contain hands-on strategies for Food Service Directors, cafeteria staff, teachers, principals and families focused on marketing, selling and serving healthier foods and beverages to middle and high school students without negative financial impact.

Tip Sheet 1: Finances: Strategies to Maintain Revenues with Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

Tip Sheet 2: Creating and Implementing Policies for Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

Tip Sheet 3: Improving Access to Healthy Foods and Beverages Through Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

Tip Sheet 4: Student Education and Engagement to Support Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

Tip Sheet 5: Improving Cafeteria Strategies to Support Healthier Competitive Foods Standards

On November 14th, the Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) hosted a webinar to share strategies, best practices and success stories from schools implementing improved nutrition standards across the country.

Listen to stories from the field


Penny Parham, Administrative Director, Department of Food and Nutrition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, on using reimburseable fresh meal vending machines to increase participation in school meal programs, an innovative marketing strategy to wrap delivery vans to advertise and raise awareness of school meal programs, and more  — LISTEN NOW


Alison Burdick, Principal, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, New London Public Schools, on switching to an “all in” breakfast in the classroom model to increase participation in the meal program, ways to build staff support, how to solicit and utilize student feedback, and more — LISTEN NOW



Mary Hill, Executive Director, Jackson Public Schools Food Service, on the importance of professional development for food service staff, ways to reinforce the connection between wellness and nutrition, fun ways to display nutrition messaging in the cafeteria, and more — LISTEN NOW

Access a full recording of the webinar here and a copy of the slides here


The tip sheets and webinar build on Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line, a report presenting case studies of schools in thirteen middle and high schools in nine school districts around the country that improved nutrition standards for their competitive food and beverages without significant negative financial impact.

Read the Executive Summary.

Learn more

 Introduction In 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the nutrition standards for snack and a la carte foods and beverages–competitive foods–in schools. Smart Snacks will result in more healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in snack bars and vending machines while limiting traditional snack items, such as full-fat chips and candy bars. The changes are critical to student health, but offering them in a way that minimizes student resistance and maximizes overall school and district food-service profit requires a coordinated approach. Social marketing, nutrition awareness and education, promotion, and improvements in the school meals are all necessary to create a healthier school climate where students are served and consume appealing healthy food.

Case The Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line project shares findings from eight school districts that have already implemented strong nutrition standards for snack and a la carte foods and beverages without significant loss of overall food-service profit. Our study explored district and school-level experiences through interviews conducted between December 2011 and April 2012. In total, 31 principals, food service directors, and staff from eight districts across the country shared their experiences and contributed their insights to the study. The study identified five overarching findings that may be particularly helpful for schools working to implement the new standards.  More detail on the overall findings of the study can be located in the Executive Summary (coming soon) and the full study.

  • Profits dipped initially but rebounded with time. Most districts reported that revenues from competitive foods rebounded substantially in two years or less.
  • Increasing participation in the school meal program was a key element of maintaining profits across all food service accounts, offsetting lost snack food profits. Thus, many of the strategies for success with transitioning to healthier school snacks are actually related to improving or promoting the school meals
  • Most schools implemented changes incrementally.  While changes were implemented over a two- to three-year period, schools that will be newly implementing standards though the Smart Snacks in School program can use many of the effective roll-out strategies to make the transition as smooth as possible.
  • Engaging multiple stakeholders to implement a variety of strategies was important to successfully transitioning to healthier products.
  • “Doing the right thing” with regard to student nutrition was more important than profit among the schools in the study, according to food service directors and school administrators. 


Thanks to all of the partners who contributed to the tip sheets and webinar including: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), Kids’ Safe and Healthful Food Project, Bridging the Gap at University of Illinois at Chicago, USDA, and interviewees at eight case study school districts.

This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number 3U38HM000520-03 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the National Network of Public Health Institutes. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC or NNPHI.