Think big picture
This section captures important big-picture themes to keep in mind throughout the process of adopting healthy food service guidelines. Some of these themes may apply across all phases and to all partners. For example, at every stage, collaboration will be essential with consumers, vendors, and other stakeholders. Other themes discussed here, such as enforcement and evaluation, have more specific applications. But in either case, keeping these overarching themes in mind from the outset will help make the implementation of healthy food service guidelines more successful.
Flexibility will be an important theme throughout, especially for organizations new to healthy food service guidelines. A flexible approach can be key in encouraging consumers to try new foods, or encouraging vendors to bid for an RFP. For certain vendors and facilities, change may be difficult. With small vendors, for instance, it may be necessary to accommodate their limited capacity. For instance, government agencies can phase in compliance (eg, over 1 or 2 years) to allow time for adjustment. They should highlight any built-in flexibility in the RFP to encourage vendors to bid.
Approaching the adoption of healthy food service guidelines with an equity lens can help address health disparities among different populations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health equity as the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people.” Adopting healthy food service guidelines is an important way government can make a difference.
For example, government institutions procure foods and beverages for a large and diverse group of constituents, from employees to visitors. Consequently, the adoption of healthy food service guidelines has the potential to reach many people, including individuals who may otherwise lack access to healthier food and beverage options. In addition to improving the health of the community and expanding consumers’ access to healthier options, healthy concessions and vending can also make an institution more equitable.
As a government agency designs and adopts healthy food service guidelines, staff and leadership should assess the current food environment and the populations the facility serves. In determining how to promote health equity through healthier concession and vending machine options, the agency should consider these opportunities and strategies:
- Provide healthier, more affordable options to all individuals consuming foods or beverages on government property
- Ensure access to healthier options for workers on different shifts
- Include healthier foods that are culturally diverse
- Survey consumers to find out what healthier products they want to buy
- Provide alternatives to vending machines, such as free, clean water (filtered if necessary) and refrigerators where people can store healthier prepared meals and snacks from home
This information is adapted from ChangeLab Solutions’ Making Change: A Guide to Healthier Vending for Municipalities
The entire process of adopting and implementing healthy food service guidelines works best with careful planning and partnership building. It is important to identify the main issues and people who can influence the process at the outset. Key questions to consider when building and collaborating with a team include the following:
- Who are the champions at various stages/levels who can help make healthy food service guidelines successful?
- Who will evaluate the implementation process and outcomes?
- Who will staff it?
- What standards and expectations are realistic?
If an institution is new to healthy food service guidelines, the people who eat there may not understand how the changes benefit them. For example, vendors may worry about the cost of new inventory or the uncertainty of consumer demand. Some consumers may be wary of changes to their usual food and beverage options. To dispel these concerns, make the specific case (ie, make the business case) for healthy food service guidelines to everyone affected, including staff involved in the procurement process and consumers.
To help champion healthy food service guidelines at an institution, staff may consider discussing the following benefits with stakeholders to help build support and partnerships. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has outlined Nine Reasons to Offer Healthier Options at Public Places, which lists the benefits of and opportunities in implementing healthy food service guidelines. Among other things, guidelines create a healthier food environment, support employees’ ability to eat better, increase demand for healthier options, and reduce health care costs.
A successful partnership between a government agency and a vendor requires a collaborative working relationship and ongoing monitoring of the implementation of healthy food service guidelines. A system of reporting and review for the guidelines should be established to ensure compliance and to provide an opportunity to improve implementation and make appropriate changes. Thinking early on about what criteria to monitor and what monitoring systems to use will help the healthy food service guidelines process go more smoothly.
Evaluating how the vendor implements the healthy food service guidelines is important to gauge success and identify areas for improvement. The RFP and contract should be shaped with evaluation in mind. This involves setting up an ongoing system of review to determine whether the vendor is fulfilling the responsibilities required under the contract and to provide the government agency with sales data that can facilitate evaluation. Asking a vendor to share data about sales patterns related to different food options (for example, healthier food and less healthy food) can help the agency better understand the vendor’s successes or challenges in implementing healthy food service guidelines.