Purchasing Should Assure Best Possible Meals

Purchasing the best quality foods with the highest nutritional value to assure that children get the best meals possible is a challenge.

Childcare programs must show that the best foods were procured at the best price to comply with federal guidelines. Grocery advertisements are not necessarily a reliable guide. Advertised items can be misleading. Those bargains don't reflect everyday prices, which make up the bulk of childcare centers' buying.

The best way to make sure that food items are bought at the "lowest possible cost" is to make a supermarket price comparison once or twice a year. List some of the standard items purchased every week. Then visit the stores where shopping could be done and compare prices. Make a similar comparison once or twice a year, and keep results on file. The price comparison file also eliminates any possible conflict of interest. Any facility that gets taxpayer dollars is subject to close scrutiny.

To develop the market order:

  • Plan the menus.
  • List the ingredients needed for the menus planned.
  • Inventory the food on hand.
  • Make a shopping list of additional foods needed for the week's menus.

Having decided which store to buy from, compare the price of the different brands and sizes of the product. Most supermarkets publish this information on the shelf tag, giving the "per ounce" price. If that information is not shown, make comparisons. Divide the number of servings in the package shown on the Nutrition Facts label.

Except for "specials", the largest package usually has the lowest per-serving cost. Store brands generally are less expensive than name brands and can be equal in quality. Generic items are the least expensive, though the quality might not be the same.

The best buy depends not only on price but also on the nutrient content of foods. A nutrition label must be provided on all processed foods. Nutrition Facts shows amounts of nutrients in that particular food so the buyer can compare useful information.

The ingredient list also provides useful information. Ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight. The closer an ingredient is to the front of the list, the more of that ingredient the product contains.

Just because foods have the word "fruit", "meat", "cheese", or "vegetable" in the name doesn't make it so. Fruit candy, meat pies, and vegetable casseroles often contain only tiny amounts of the ingredients in their names. Read the list of ingredients and pay attention to the order in which they are listed. Select those foods with desired ingredients high on the list.

Every child care center participating in the USDA CACFP needs good purchasing records that include:

  • Price-comparison files.
  • Store receipts for all purchases.
  • A formal, annual inventory of purchased food and expendable supplies.

The dollar value of the inventory is reported as an asset on the nonprofit institution's annual financial statement. Using purchase records and the first in/first out/ (FIFO) method for receiving and storage, it is easy to check back to the last receipts for purchase prices.

Taken from What's Cooking? A fact sheet for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Volume 3, Number 2, National Food Service Management Institute, The University of Mississippi.