What is Exceed?

Welcome to Exceed, the tool for using healthy food service guidelines! We developed this resource to explain healthy food service guidelines and provide useful information on how to include them in your contracts. Government agencies that purchase and provide nutritious foods and beverages are leading by example, and supporting the health and wellness of employees.

As background, the history of food service guidelines is explained at the federal level. We give an overview of the process and relevant laws that were involved in developing the guidelines, including standards for healthier foods and beverages. Note that the laws and policies referenced in Exceed are accurate as of January 2017. We provide detailed strategies for incorporating strong policy language into your legal documents that will support successful implementation.

We encourage everyone from government staff to vendors to go above and beyond in adopting healthy food service guidelines, and Exceed expectations!

What are healthy food service guidelines?

Photo credit: DC Central Kitchen

Healthy food service guidelines help food service facilities develop practices and processes that are healthier and more sustainable. They create food environments that make nutritious options more available and easier for consumers to choose.

Guidelines include standards for important aspects of food and beverage procurement, such as nutrition standards for prepared foods, packaged snacks, and drinks. They may require facilities to purchase locally sourced foods and practice green purchasing for single-service items or packaged products.

Healthy food service guidelines may include food safety standards, and provide pricing and marketing strategies to promote healthier food and beverage options in food service facilities. They are used primarily for developing contracts for the delivery of food service in cafeterias, cafés, grills, snack bars, micro markets, vending machines, and other self-service facilities. 

How do healthy food service guidelines work?

Just like private entities, government agencies can adopt healthy food service guidelines through their “market participant” power—the power to choose what to buy. The term “market participant” refers to entities that participate in and influence a market – the most common participants being “buyers” and “sellers.” 

Governments generally have discretion over the types of food they buy though that authority depends in part on the source of the funds used to purchase food. For example, schools participating the federal school meal programs are required to follow federal nutrition standards for foods served and sold on campus as those foods are purchased with federal dollars.

Why is this important?

Americans eat an estimated one-third of their calories outside the home, and spend almost half their food money on food they don’t prepare themselves. Government institutions at all levels are significant purchasers and providers of foods and beverages, and have a growing interest in creating healthier, more sustainable food environments.

Government at all levels (ie, local, state, and federal) has a strong interest in improving the health of the people living in its community. The more people’s health improves, the more this benefits community members and saves taxpayer dollars. Each year, healthier diets could save American society almost $114.5 billion (2012 dollars) in medical expenses, lost productivity, and lost lives (Anekwe, T.D. & Rahkovsky, I. Curr Obes Rep (2013) 2: 225). Not only do healthy food service guidelines benefit government staff and visitors who regularly eat on government property, but the commitment to serving healthier fare shows the government leading by example. Government can promote health by exceeding minimum requirements, and purchasing and providing nutritious items.

Exceed references the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities released in 2017, which are used for developing contracts for the delivery of food service in federal facilities. These guidelines replace the 2011 Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations, created by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration. This content may also serve as a model for food service in state and local governments and other institutions.

(Exceed also refers to nonspecific nutrition standards, such as local or state agency standards and hospital standards, as “healthy food service guidelines.”)

Who’s already doing this?

A diverse range of government institutions have adopted and implemented healthy food service guidelines in unique ways, from statewide workplace wellness programs to cities participating in the Let’s Move Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative. Many government entities cite concerns about the nation’s growing epidemic of preventable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes, which result in higher health care costs and disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. Food and beverage vendors are also implementing healthy guidelines on their own. They benefit from making healthy options available to consumers, who are increasingly demanding these options when dining out or buying from vending machines. 

See examples from our Resource Library, and read more about how to include healthy food service guidelines language in your RFPs and contracts.


Photo credit: The White House

This summary describes the historical context in which federal agencies developed food service guidelines for healthier foods and beverages.


Relevant guidelines and laws

Healthy food service guidelines are generally designed to make healthier choices more accessible, appealing, safe, and affordable. This section...

Guidelines in action

An increasing number of cities, state and federal agencies, and public and private worksites are adopting healthy food service guidelines....

Explore our resources to help you implement healthy food service guidelines: case studies, evaluation tools, strategies, real-world examples and much more.