Strategize and Act

Work with Vendors to Improve Accessibility of Healthier Foods

A smiling vendor wearing an apron.

Ultimately, you want to improve the accessibility of healthier foods in food service venues. To be accessible, healthier foods must be available, appealing, and affordable. For example, if healthier foods are available, but are poorly prepared or overpriced, then the healthier foods are not accessible. To ensure accessibility, you will need to work with your vendors to:

  • Procure healthier foods and beverages.
  • Ensure healthier foods are culturally preferable.
  • Modify menus and recipes to meet food service guidelines.
  • Train staff in healthier and flavorful food preparation.

Procure Healthier Foods and Beverages

If the vendor is not bound by a contract to supply foods that meet food service guidelines and the contract is not up for renewal where you can specify the terms, you can encourage the vendor to start with small steps and work incrementally to procure healthier foods. Initially, encourage the vendor to increase the number of healthier offerings or ingredients they are already purchasing. Brainstorm creative ways to add those healthier foods to existing recipes or use them in new menu offerings. Further increase healthier offerings by working with suppliers to determine the full range of products that comply with food service guidelines. Items may be available that the vendor was unaware of that could be added in the menu rotation.

If food service guidelines are not in the vendor contract but the vendor is willing to voluntarily procure healthier food items, do not get discouraged if the vendor cannot fully meet the guidelines on the first try. For example, if the vendor cannot find soup that meets the sodium criteria but there is soup that is lower in sodium than what was purchased previously, encourage the vendor to start with available lower sodium soup. The vendor can then look for other alternative sources of soup that will fully or more closely meet the guidelines.

If the distribution companies cannot source specific healthier items, you can look to other companies, often smaller or specialized, to supplement your healthier food supply. Work with your vendor to overcome any purchasing obstacles related to contractual obligations. Also, include prioritizing local sources of food items as that will benefit the local economy, which is one of the goals of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities pdf icon[PDF-3.34MB].

Women eating culturally preferable foods

Ensure Healthier Foods are Culturally Preferable

If the setting where you are implementing food service guidelines is diverse or predominately one culture (such as Native American), offering healthier foods and flavorings that are traditional and culturally preferable for your population would attract and benefit customers. Be sure that you include diverse representatives on your food service guidelines team that can advise you on healthy food preferences that you can encourage your vendor to offer.

Modify Menus and Recipes

Vendors may need to make changes to their menu to comply with food service guidelines. For example, to meet requirements of serving seafood twice per week or plant-based entrees three times per week, the vendor will have to add a variety of these options into the menu rotation if they have not already been incorporating these foods in their offerings. In addition, recipes may need modification as well. For example, herbs and spices can be used instead of salt for seasoning entrees to decrease sodium into the recommended levels. Recipes can also be modified by using whole grain-rich products as the default choices in prepared dishes. For any menu and/or recipe modifications, updated nutrition and allergen information should be made available to customers. Vendors should also consider what kitchen tools or equipment are necessary, if any, to accommodate menu and/or recipe modifications.

Train Staff in Healthier and Flavorful Food Preparation

Staff may need training to alter cooking methods to make menu items healthier while maintaining flavor. For example, poultry, fish, and lean meats may be broiled, grilled, or roasted instead of cooked in a deep fryer. As mentioned in the previous section, herbs and spices can be used as seasoning to reduce the need for salt and staff may need to learn what combinations of flavors work well with one another. Staff may also need training in knife skills (for prepping healthier foods), forecasting (just-in-time ordering) and other food waste reduction strategies. Work with your vendor to ensure that staff are adequately trained to follow food service guidelines.

Resources

The Healthier Vending Machine Initiatives in State Facilities pdf icon[PDF-153KB] provides guidance for those working in government agencies operating under the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936.

Stories and teachings gleaned from CDC’s Traditional Foods Project, 2008-2014 are posted on this website.