New Infographic Illustrates Impact of School Food Initiative

*See detailed summary explanation of infographic in narrative below.

Infographic Summary

LiveWell Colorado’s School Food Initiative (SFI) operates in school districts across the state with the goal of providing school meals that are both nutrient dense and delicious. Districts enrolled in the program receive culinary, operations, and marketing training over the course of 18 months. Our unique marketing assistance, for example, empowers Food & Nutrition Service departments to promote the positive changes they’re making to the greater school community. The on-site chef consultations cultivate the skills required to properly handle fresh/whole foods, build confidence in the business side of operating the National School Lunch Program, as well as consistently produce innovative, from-scratch recipes.

This infographic represents evaluation results for 5 districts sampled from the 13-district cohort participating in the SFI from November 2014 to February 2016. The level of scratch cooking at pre- and post- assessment was measured across a menu cycle using the Quantitative Menu Analysis technique.

The results at pre-data collection show that the use of fresh/whole ingredients across districts averaged 53% of total ingredients used, while at post the use of fresh/whole ingredients across districts averaged 63% of total ingredients used. This indicates a 10% increase in the use of fresh/whole ingredients during the intervention period. This increase occurred as a result of 278 more fresh/whole ingredients being present on the menu cycles post-data collection. Of these improvements, 250 were due to new, fresh/whole ingredients being added to menu cycles. For example, one school district did not offer a salad bar pre-intervention but incorporated a full, multi-item salad bar throughout the course of their participation. Salad bars are one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption for children.

Other improvements occurred when the school districts replaced 28 processed items with a better fresh/whole version of that item. For example, they replaced frozen, pre-formed french fries with roasted potato wedges made from whole potatoes and prepared in-house. Overall, improvements made to the fruit or vegetable categories represent 86% of the total changes, significantly increasing fresh produce offerings in each district. Another improvement to note is the increase in the use of fresh and dried herbs, which serve as an important sodium reduction strategy in order to meet incoming and updated USDA regulations.

Throughout the SFI training, districts examined their menu cycles. They paid close attention to the level of processing of some foods and as a result, eliminated certain menu items altogether in order to offer a completely new and option. An example of this would be the elimination of macaroni and cheese made with a processed cheese sauce. Overall, at pre, districts were using anywhere from 30-70% fresh/whole ingredients, while at post, the improvements contributed to districts now using 55-70% fresh/whole ingredients. These two ranges in the use of fresh/whole ingredients demonstrate that after one year in the program, over half of the ingredients used in each district now fall in the fresh/whole category.

The results from this representative sample can be applied to the entire 13-district cohort. In other words, we can reasonably estimate that all districts are increasing the use of fresh/whole ingredients by 10%, therefore improving the nutritional quality of school lunch for 14,496 students during the last school year. In addition to these specific culinary improvements, FSDs participated in a post-SFI interview and shared many indirect successes that the SFI consultants facilitated. Examples of these include development of a menu cycle, cost and labor saving strategies, and the attainment of additional funding opportunities through the enhancement of marketing efforts.

To demonstrate the sustainability of the SFI, the infographic also presents findings from a second study. In this study, 5 districts from the 2013 cohort participated in evaluation activities from March 2013 to March 2016. The study measured the school districts use of fresh/whole ingredients each year, which demonstrated an average increase of 17%. The increase in fresh/whole ingredients indicates that districts are successfully able to implement SFI strategies and skills over time to make ongoing culinary improvements to their respective meal programs.

The study also measured average lunch participation, which remained steady during the specified time period. This consistency in participation indicates that positive changes to the menu cycle, which may include the elimination of popular processed items, does not negatively impact lunch participation. The study then compared lunch participation for the 5 districts in the study to lunch participation in all Colorado public school districts from 2013 to 2016. This comparison shows that the SFI intervention districts consistently have a higher participation rate than the Colorado average.

The SFI will continue to evaluate program impacts and district outcomes. Currently, evaluation activities are being conducted with the 2016 cohort, representing about 24,000 students throughout Colorado. New results coming in 2018!