Levels of Authority for School Food Systems

Levels of Authority for School Food Systems

Levels of Authority for School Food Systems

The national school food system is a complex hierarchy, with responsibilities stretching from the local campus to the U.S. Congress. Here is a partial list of typical food system responsibilities.

Federal Government

  • Sets reimbursement and income level requirements for national breakfast and lunch programs
  • Determines minimal nutrition requirements for federally supported meals
  • Creates policies for commodity foods offered to schools

State Government

  • May supplement federal reimbursements
  • Sets regulations for foods served in schools not participating in federal programs
  • Administers food stamp nutrition education fund programs in schools
  • Creates academic state-level standards and testing procedures

School Board

  • Approves district operating budget
  • Sets priorities for superintendent
  • Approves federally mandated wellness policies for local districts
  • Proposes tax measures for approval by voters

District Superintendent/Administration

  • Establishes expectations and priorities for food service, guided by federal requirements (break even, maintain surplus, and so on)
  • Recommends budget, may propose allocating additional funds to supplement food service income
  • Determines where savings achieved by food service, such as reduced trash-hauling fees, will be applied, guided by federal requirements
  • Oversees design, construction, and maintenance of kitchen facilities and resources
  • Secures additional resources, such as funding to staff garden and kitchen classes

Food Service Director

  • Creates and manages food service budget, determining how funds will be allocated among food purchases, personnel, equipment, and so on
  • Sets menus and documents adherence to required nutritional standards
  • Procures and oversees preparation of food; locates and negotiates with farmers, distributors, and vendors
  • Determines food service staff roles; oversees staff training
  • “Markets” food service to students and families


  • Sets the tone for campus regarding openness to change and spirit of cooperation
  • Determines the level of support and encouragement for faculty and staff experimentation and innovation at the school site
  • With teachers, creates class schedule (e.g., amount of time for lunch, order of lunch and recess)

Teachers and Staff (sometimes constrained by union contracts)

  • Choose whether and how to incorporate food and nutrition into classroom lessons
  • Determine how food may be used outside of meals (for instance for treats and celebrations, or as reward and punishment), within local and state requirements
  • Can model attitudes toward school food
  • Usually maintain the most direct communication with parents

This chart is adapted from Michael K. Stone, Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability (Watershed Media/University of California Press, 2009).

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