Healthy Food Environments

Photo: Young woman at the market

People generally get most of their food from either food retail venues, where they buy foods to prepare and eat from home, or from food service venues, where they eat away from home. Grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers’ markets are examples of food retail venues. Restaurants (including quick serve), childcare facilities, schools, hospital and worksite cafeterias are examples of food service venues.

Having healthy food available and affordable in food retail and food service settings allows people to make healthier food choices. When healthy foods are not available, people may settle for foods that are higher in calories and lower in nutritional value. Thus, creating and supporting healthy food environments is an important part of public health work.

Many strategies can contribute to healthy food environments. These include:

  • Applying nutrition standards in childcare facilities, schools, hospitals, and worksites.
  • Providing incentives for supermarkets or farmers’ markets to establish their businesses in underserved areas.
  • Having nutrition information and caloric content on restaurant and fast food menus.

Learn what you can do to help support people in making healthier food choices in your communities.

Worksites Can:

Promote health and wellness in the workplace. One way to do this is to implement food service guidelines, such as those developed for federal government worksites below.

Hospitals Can:

Assess their food and beverage offerings to ensure healthier choices are available for their patients, employees, and visitors.

Helpful resources include:

Early Care and Education Programs Can:

Use best practices to increase consumption of healthy food and beverages and increase breastfeeding based on nutrition standards external iconfor the early care and education setting and as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal icon. Childcare centers can also assess their food environments and develop action plans and policies that promote healthy eating.

Helpful resources include:

  • Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards (CFOC), 3rd ed.external icon This resource contains comprehensive, evidence-based national standards for this setting, including standards for obesity prevention addressing nutrition, infant feeding, physical activity, and screen time.
  • Healthy Kids, Healthy Future external icon. A website with practical tools and resources to help early care and education (ECE)providers achieve obesity prevention best practices in the following areas:
    • Improving food choices
    • Providing healthy beverages
    • Increasing physical activity
    • Reducing screen time
    • Supporting breastfeeding.
  • Checklist Quizexternal icon from Healthy Kids, Healthy Future helps providers assess how well they are currently meeting best practices and gives information on how to develop an action plan for making improvements. The site features information on curriculum development, menu planning, and resources for parents. A national  mapexternal icon recognizes ECE providers who report meeting all of the best practices. A resource section for trainers also is available on the site.
  • Go NAPSACCexternal icon. This website provides information and resources from the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAPSACC). Resources for children from birth to 5 years are available, plus a focus on breastfeeding and infant feeding, screen time, and outdoor play. Go NAPSACC can also tailor tools and recommendations for different childcare settings, including family childcare homes. Downloadable Go NAPSACC self-assessments are availableexternal icon.
  • Model Child Care Health Policies (5th edition).external icon This resource, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides guidance on the adoption of policies related to best practices on the health and safety of young children in early care and after school settings. Section 4 provides example policies related specifically to nutrition, food handling, and feeding that childcare centers can adopt for their use.
  • Grow It, Try It, Like It! Nutrition Education Kit Featuring MyPlateexternal icon. This is a garden-themed nutrition education kit that features fun activities in an imaginary garden. Each set of lessons contains hands-on activities, planting activities, nutrition education, and recipes to try at home.

Schools Can:

Follow nutrition standards to ensure that food and beverage options are healthy. They also can encourage students to eat foods that meet dietary recommendationsexternal icon for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.

Other options include:

  • Encourage children to drink water in place of sugary drinks and ensure access to free drinking water as an alternative to sugary drinks before, during, and after school. See Water Access in Schools pdf icon[PDF-2.05MB].
  • Establish salad bars to increase access to fruits and vegetables for children. See Salad Bars to Schools.
  • Limit foods and drinks with added sugar, fat, and sodium that can be purchased outside the school lunch program such as in vending machines.

States and Communities Can:

  • Assist in the creation of new food retail outlets in underserved areas to increase access to healthier foods and beverages.
  • Support the improvement of the quality, variety, and amount of healthier foods and beverages in existing stores.
  • Help with the promotion and marketing of healthier foods and beverages to consumers.

Helpful resources include:

Restaurants Can: