Ingredient Guide for Better School Food Purchasing

The cover of the Ingredient Guide

This guide is a science-based tool created primarily by school nutrition professionals, for school nutrition professionals, in partnership with Center for Science in the Public Interest. It is a resource for school food leaders and manufacturers alike who are committed to improving the overall quality, nutritional value, and safety of food provided to all students in every school. A guiding principle behind the development of this document is that our nation’s school nutrition professionals should be empowered to choose what works best for their school food programs according to the unique needs of their community. 

Updating the Ingredient Guide for Better School Food Purchasing became a project of FoodCorps’ Supply Chain work stream, after the merger between FoodCorps and School Food FOCUS in 2018. FoodCorps convened a working group that included a Senior Scientist from Center for Science in the Public Interest and a diverse group of school nutrition operators (some of whom led the process for the original 2014 guide) with representation across rural, urban, suburban, small, medium, and large school districts. 

The guide highlights unwanted ingredients to eliminate and those to watch out for as new school food products are developed and others are modified. This version contains an updated ingredient list with the most recent research and regulatory developments as of July 2021, and suggestions on how to use the guide and why it is needed. You can also find a quick reference to the Ingredient Guide here


How to use this guide

The Ingredient Guide is a tool that can be used by school districts of any size or location. Below are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Share with industry partners, manufacturers, food entrepreneurs, brokers, and anyone wanting to enter the school nutrition space to guide their decision-making process in the development of new products and alteration of current products intended for schools. It can be used to help clarify expectations and understand market demand.
  • Guide purchasing decisions and recipe development. It can be used directly in food bids or RFPs (Requests for Proposal).
  • Communicate food philosophy to students and families via school nutrition websites or social media platforms.
  • Steer overall menu direction and program vision.

What was the process for updating this guide?

Starting with the content from the 2014 Ingredient Guide, the working group reviewed each ingredient to consider its inclusion in the updated version. A Senior Scientist from CSPI provided additional ingredients for the group to consider, as well as a perspective based on recent scientific and regulatory developments. The group discussed each ingredient’s prevalence in school food products, food manufacturing trends, and whether including an ingredient or not would impact the operational feasibility for a school nutrition department.

As a general rule, the working group opted to empower school nutrition professionals in making decisions for their unique school food community by ensuring they have unbiased, science-backed information at their disposal. 

For further questions on the development of this guide, please reach out to Jillian Dy, FoodCorps’ Director of Supply Chain Engagement, at [email protected]


Project Partners:

  • Bertrand Weber – Director of Culinary and Wellness Services, Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Tammy Yarmon – Director of Nutrition Services, Omaha Public Schools
  • Angela Richey, MPH, RD, SNS – Director of Nutrition Services, Roseville Area and St. Anthony/New Brighton Schools
  • Jeanne Reilly – Director of School Nutrition, RSU 14 Windham Raymond Schools
  • Debra Brunner, RD, CD – Supervising Dietitian, Milwaukee Public Schools
  • Linley Danner, MS RD – Dietitian, Austin Independent School District
  • Amanda Oceguera – Manager of Nutrition Services, Houston Independent School District
  • Nicole Scarangello – Director of Menu Management, NYC Department of Education
  • Megan Flynn, MPH, RD – Nutrition Project Manager, Life Time Foundation
  • Adam Kesselman – Executive Director, Center for Ecoliteracy
  • Jill Kidd, MS, RD, SNS – Procurement Director, Urban School Food Alliance
  • Valeria La Rosa – Senior Program Manager, Life Time Foundation
  • Lisa Lefferts, MSPH – Senior Scientist, Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Alexa Norstad – Director of Programs, Center for Ecoliteracy
  • Niisoja Torto – Emerson Hunger Fellow, Congressional Hunger Center
  • Ashley Nitzkorski, RD – Dietitian, Culinary and Wellness Services, Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Jillian Dy – Director of Supply Chain Engagement, FoodCorps


Endorsing Partners:

  • Center for Ecoliteracy
  • Chef Ann Foundation 
  • Eat REAL
  • FoodCorps
  • Healthy Schools Campaign
  • Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Life Time Foundation
  • LunchAssist
  • National Farm to School Network
  • Scratchworks
  • Urban School Food Alliance
  • Wellness in the Schools
  • Whole Kids Foundation