Healthy food service guidelines

Food service guidelines are standards for healthier foods and beverages in government facilities, worksites, and institutions. This is an evidence-based strategy for creating a healthier food environment in settings like hospitals, correctional facilities, shelters, universities, senior centers, child care facilities, employee cafeterias, and more.

Benefits of healthy food service guidelines

As part of the overall transformation of the food system to support a culture of health, large institutions and government agencies are increasingly adopting guidelines for the foods and beverages they purchase, serve, and sell on their property and through their programs.

Create a healthier food environment

People often lack access to healthier foods in settings where they live, work, learn, heal, and play.

Food service guidelines shift the food and beverage environment in government facilities, worksites, and institutions, making the healthy choice the easy choice.

Reach diverse settings

Almost any government agency, institution, or community-based organization can benefit from guidelines that support a healthier food environment. Some examples are:

  • Office buildings
  • Hospitals
  • Colleges and universities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Parks and recreation centers
  • Programs that provide free meals to low-income seniors and children

Prioritize equity

As a result of structural racism and other barriers to opportunity, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and low-income individuals are disproportionately represented in certain settings, including correctional facilities and food assistance programs.

These same communities are disproportionately burdened by poor access to healthy food and chronic diseases. By targeting institutions and programs that serve socially disadvantaged populations, food service guideline policies can promote more equitable access to healthy food.

Harness public purchasing power

This approach invests in a healthier food system, leveraging the purchasing power of public institutions to demand healthier foods and beverages.

Shifting public food purchasing has the potential to foster product reformulation and innovation throughout the food supply, thereby improving access to healthier foods and beverages for other sectors like retail and restaurants.

Build the movement

Dozens of state and local governments have adopted guidelines for the food available on public property.

View Healthier Food on State and Local Property map in a new tab

However, few of those policies comprehensively reach the majority of public settings and venues with strong nutrition standards. Many address the foods and beverages sold through vending machines, leaving the food sold in cafeterias and served in institutions without guidelines to support health.

We must do more to transform public spaces to support public health. We can provide you with technical assistance to advocate for healthy food service guidelines in your state or locality. Get started with the resources on this page and reach out to us at