In a study spanning 42 middle schools in five states, schools saw an average profit of $1.1 million by offering healthier menu options in their cafeterias.
From 2006 to 2009, the study examined 21 schools that made the changes and 21 that did not.
“We had more children coming through the cafeteria lines,” said Dr. Robert Trevino, executive director of The Social & Health Research Center and lead author of the study. “And the more children through the cafeteria line, the greater the reimbursement through the federal government.”
Schools that made the healthy changes decreased fat content in their foods and offered at least two servings of fruits or vegetables and high-fiber foods. They also offered desserts with fewer than 200 calories, only nonfat milk, and eliminated all sodas and sugary juices.
“These are more expensive items,” said Trevino. “The profit margin is not as great as with water. So water costs less and there's a better profit margin with water.”
The 2012-2013 school year will be the first time SAISD students are required to select a fruit or vegetable in the lunch line, which will cause an increase in food costs.
SAISD says because of several other contributing factors, it cannot predict whether that increased cost will cause a loss in revenue.
But the district has made the healthy changes permanent throughout all of its schools, and they say the real payoff is among the students.
“They were learning what to look for when they're at a restaurant or go shopping with their mom,” said Sally Cody, SAISD Food Service Director. “They were looking for these things then, like baby carrots, which is kind of cool."
The study will be published in September in the Journal of School Health.