Monitor and Evaluate

Types of Food Service Guidelines Data for Long-Term Outcome Evaluation According to Setting Types

The sources of data that you will use for your evaluation will vary depending on the types of settings and venues where food service guidelines are being implemented. The settings are classified as to whether t­­he food is sold, served, or given away.

Types of Data Setting

Places Where Foods are Sold. These places include settings such as worksites, healthcare facilities, parks, and recreation facilities where foods and beverages are sold in venues such as cafeterias, snack bars, and vending machines. Data sources for these settings include point-of-sale, procurement, production, and menu data. See Places Where Foods Are Sold: Steps to Conducting Your Long-Term Outcome Evaluation [PDF-494KB] for step-by-step guidance on using these data.

  • Point-of-Sale Data. Because customers pay for the foods they purchase, itemized sales are often recorded at the point-of-sale. These data are useful in that they directly measure the foods that are acquired by consumers. However, point-of-sale data can vary in specificity and utility.
  • Procurement Data. Procurement data records the bulk-packaged food and beverage items purchased by the owner or operator of the food service venue. These data are useful for measuring many key healthy or less healthy items, but they are not as useful for assessing prepared foods that combine multiple ingredients.
  • Production Data. Food production data can be obtained from records documenting the number of trays of specific entrées and side dishes prepared on a given day, the number of these trays served, and the number that remained or were discarded. These data are useful to approximate sales of healthy and less healthy menu items.
  • Menu Data. You can obtain menu cycles from food service managers or staff and assess them for compliance of food service guidelines. Menu data are particularly helpful to monitor standards where food items are recommended to be offered a certain number of days per week. These data are not useful for long-term evaluation since there are no quantitative data that you can use to make your assessment.

Places Where Foods are Served. These places include settings such as correctional institutions, eldercare facilities, and military dining halls, and also includes places used for afterschool and recreation programs. When foods are served, meals and snacks that meet all or part of individuals’ daily or weekly nutrition needs are provided, and individual choice about what to eat may be limited. Data sources for these settings include procurement, production, and menu data. Point-of-sale data are not likely to be applicable or available.

Although procurement and production data can be used similarly to that described for places where foods are sold, menu data can be used approximate consumption. The lack of a variety of choices for what to eat, means that menus more closely correspond to foods consumed by participants or residents. Menu and corresponding nutrition data may be a useful proxy for the foods consumed in these types of settings.

See Places Where Foods Are Served: Steps to Conducting Your Long-Term Outcome Evaluation [PDF-503KB] for step-by-step guidance on using these data.

Places Where Foods are Given Away. Food service guidelines can also be implemented in places where foods are distributed without cost to those receiving the foods. These places include faith-based organizations where communal meals or snacks are shared and food pantries where foods are distributed free to clients. The types of evaluation data available for such settings may differ from that available where foods are sold or served.

  • People gathered for a pot-luck dinner

    Faith-Based Settings. Many faith-based organizations, particularly those with large memberships, have vending machines throughout their facilities and concessions for their events and gatherings. Many have onsite kitchens with hired staff that prepare meals for children’s programs, dinners among members, and more. In these situations, food service guidelines can be implemented, and point-of-sale, procurement, and production data can be used as applicable for evaluation. For example, point-of sale or procurement data can be used to evaluate foods and beverages in vending machines, and menu, procurement, or production data can be used to evaluate foods served in children’s programs.

    However, many meals or snacks served during functions at faith-based settings are done as potlucks, meaning members each bring different foods and there is not a set menu or standardized recipes. You can adapt healthy meeting policies (such as the one here [PDF-665KB]) for potluck events since food service guidelines do not apply in these situations. Data normally used for food service guidelines are often not relevant for evaluation of potlucks. Evaluation methods may need to focus on foods offered and rely upon food and beverage types that can be readily identified without the need to inquire about recipes from multiple food preparers. For example, the availability of fruits, vegetables, and healthy beverages and the absence of unhealthy beverages, fried foods, pastries, and desserts may be feasible standards to ascertain without overly burdening event participants. Assessments can be completed at several points in time both before and after food service guidelines implementation.

  • Volunteers filling boxes at a food pantry

    Food Pantries. Food pantries differ substantially from other settings regarding how food service guidelines can be implemented and evaluated. The foods dispensed from pantries consist of both prepackaged foods and beverages as well as ingredients that can be used in the preparation of recipes at home. The acquisition and distribution of foods by food pantries also differ fundamentally from nearly all other settings where food service guidelines are implemented. For example, pantries acquire foods through a variety of sources: orders from regional food banks, donations of food directly to the pantry, and purchases of foods from food distributors using pantry funds. Pantries have varying levels of control over the types of foods they acquire (and corresponding nutritional quality) from these different sources.

    Evaluation of food service guidelines in food pantries typically involves applying one of several existing food ranking systems developed to classify the healthfulness of foods acquired and distributed by food pantries. Because food pantries differ in the ways they distribute foods, data collection methods will differ by how they operate.  For example, some pantries distribute prepared boxes of various types of foods to clients (box pantries) and some allow clients to directly select foods in a setting that resembles a retail grocery store (choice pantries).


The Healthy Eating Research Nutrition Guidelines for the Charitable Food System provides evidence-based guidelines for food banks and food pantries.

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