First Steps for Successful Procurement in your School Nutrition Program

food pile

The School Nutrition Program (SNP) is a complex business operation. Schools across the nation strive to provide nutritious, tasty, quality meals to students while being cost effective. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is dedicated to ensuring successful procurement by looking at principles and practices at the state agency (SA) and School Food Authority (SFA). Procurement is a multi-step process for obtaining goods, products, and/or service at the best possible price. Procurement in SNPs includes, but is not limited to, food products, software, equipment, Food Service Management Companies (FSMCs), local foods, paper products etc.

Proper planning before procuring a good or service is essential in order to obtain the high-quality products and services needed at the most affordable price.  Consider the following steps when starting the procurement process in your district:

  1. Determine your procurement procedures. The USDA sets the federal standards for procuring goods in SNPs (Code of Federal Regulations links below); however, some states and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) may have more stringent guidelines. Check with your SA and your district’s board policy to determine appropriate procedures for your SFA.
  2. Once you have determined the standards, become familiar with the different types of procurement and what methodology is best for you. The types of procurement include Invitation to Bid (IFB), Request for Proposal (RFP), Informal Competitive Purchase procedures, and Micro-Purchase. Note that more than one procurement method can be used in your organization (i.e. you may use a RFP for your grocery bid and an IFB may be used for your paper products).
  3. Talk with your neighboring SFAs and see what procurement processes and bids they are utilizing, maybe even join a purchasing co-op.  Joining a co-op can not only decrease pricing, it can also increase quality and variety of products! No sense in re-creating great practices that are already in place and saving money while you are at it!

Procurement is a process to make sure you are getting the best use of your federal dollars – treat it just as you would for shopping for yourself at home. Don’t see it as a barrier – look into your procurement procedures, figure out what is best for you and reach out to your colleagues!


Kerri Link, MS, RD, SNS, Colorado Department of Education 


E-Code of Federal Regulations on Procurement for SFA’s:

United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (2009). Reminder: Procurement requirements for the national school lunch, school breakfast and special milk programs.

United States Department of Agriculture (2011). USDA food facts.