Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity PlaN
Nutrition Objective 1: Priority Recommendation C
Assure that schools provide healthy foods and beverages

According to a national study, most school-aged children are spending between six and eight hours at school and eating 19-50 percent of their daily food at school five days a week.(1) As part of an integrated Coordinated School Health Program (Appendix E) schools can promote well-being and readiness to learn by making it easy for students to choose healthy foods.

When they provide pleasant eating environments, plenty of time to eat, and foods and beverages that reinforce the health education messages that children receive in their classrooms, schools play a critical role in teaching and modeling healthy eating behaviors.(2,3)

In 2006, fewer school principals reported that candy and salty high-fat snacks were available in vending machines or school stores, compared to previous years. However, sales of fruits and vegetables through these school venues remained low.

Over the past 20 years, the proportion of foods eaten by children as part of the school meal program has declined while fast food consumption has increased.(4) The number of alternative food sources and commercial advertising of foods on school campuses has also increased.(2,5) Competitive foods — offered through à la carte service, school stores, snack bars, and vending machines — are often high in calories and low in nutrients. Higher sales of these items result in lower participation in school lunch programs.(2) In Washington, 70 percent of eighth graders, 75 percent of tenth graders and 78 percent of 12th graders do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.(6) Children who participate in the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP) eat more fruits and vegetables and drink fewer sodas than children who don’t eat school meals.(1)

Examples of Activities

Adopt and implement policies that assure that all foods and beverages available on school campuses and at school events contribute toward eating patterns that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

School nutrition policy initiatives - federal, state, local


The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-265) required school districts nationwide to develop local wellness policies. Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend appropriate nutritional standards for the availability, sale, content, and consumption of foods at school, with a special focus on competitive foods. These recommendations are published in Nutrition Standards For Foods in Schools: Leading the Way Toward Healthier Youth.(5) The report organizes foods and beverages offered outside of the school lunch program into two tiers according to their consistency with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and makes recommendations regarding their availability in schools.


Washington State Senate Bill 5436 required school boards to adopt nutrition and physical fitness policies by August 1, 2005. Washington State Senate Bill 5093, passed in March 2007, encourages school districts to provide only healthy food and beverages during school hours or for school sponsored activities, and to develop school health advisory committees.

Local School Districts

Guidelines and resources for developing policies are available on the Healthy Schools, Successful Students Web site at www.healthyschoolswa.org. The Web site also includes nutrition and physical activity policies from Washington’s school districts.

Examples of School District Policies

The Seattle School Board approved a comprehensive set of nutrition-related policies designed to provide students with healthy food and beverage choices during the school day. The policies ban sales of all foods containing high levels of sugar and fat, improve the quality and appeal of school meal programs, and prohibit contracts with beverage vendors for “exclusive pouring rights,” as part of an anti-commercialism policy. These policies are considered to be among the strongest in the country.

The Toppenish School District policies are designed to provide healthy choices at school that are consistent with nutrition education messages, and to maximize participation in the school meal program. They clearly define portion size limits and maximum levels of total fat, saturated fat and sugar for competitive foods and beverages. These guidelines cover food available during school hours and during regularly scheduled afterschool programs. The policies apply to foods and beverages that are offered or sold from all venues including vending machines, student stores, parent groups, booster clubs, associated student body groups, and a la carte sales in the lunchroom by teachers in class or by others.

The Spokane School District policies apply strict portion-size, calorie and nutrient standards to all food and beverages sold, served or offered from all sources on school property before and during the school day. Competitive foods from any venue are limited to 250 calories and nine grams of fat per portion (except seeds and nuts). The district has phased out deep fat frying, promotes side salads as options to potato products and limits cookies and dessert options to two days per week. The district also requires trans-fat label information for all menu items.

Support Farm to School programs in local schools.

Farm to School programs that promote the use of local produce in school cafeterias offer benefits to children, schools, communities, and farmers:(7)

  • School cafeterias serve healthy meals.
  • Student nutrition is improved.
  • Children learn where their food comes from and how their choices affect their own health and the viability of local farms.
  • Community food systems grow and prosper.
  • Local farmers have more markets for their products.

Policy changes may be needed to facilitate Farm to School programs. Some schools need to upgrade their kitchens to be able to prepare and serve fresh local food, and some districts need to change food procurement guidelines and practices to encourage local buying. Many school districts adopt curricula that link farm food, school gardens and nutrition education.(8)

The Olympia School District piloted “Organic Choices,” a salad bar featuring local organic fruit and vegetables, in October 2002 at Lincoln Elementary School. To address the extra cost, desserts were eliminated and replaced with additional fresh fruits and vegetables and the district switched from plastic disposable eating utensils to reusable silverware. Additional schools have added organic salad bars, and efforts have expanded to incorporate local organic produce from several farms into the school lunch program throughout the district. In the Olympia School District, lunch participation rates have increased at Lincoln Elementary School, and fruit and vegetable servings have increased at both Lincoln and Pioneer schools.

Increase access to healthy foods on college and university campuses.

The Washington State University (WSU) Organic Farm sells produce to the WSU Hospitality School for special catered events. The chef uses and promotes locally produced, organic products. The farm also sells its produce to WSU students and staff at a weekly farm stand. The Evergreen State College manages a 3-acre organic farm on campus. During the growing season, produce is sold at a farm-stand on campus, through community supported agriculture subscriptions, and to the campus food service. Annual sales total about $25,000. Excess produce is donated to the Thurston County Food Bank and local charities, or composted. Proceeds from sales help finance farm operations, projects, and purchase of seeds and equipment.(9)