National Parks Service’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: NPS Healthy and Sustainable Food Program

Location: U.S. National Parks

  • Approximately 23.5 million customers served yearly
  • Approximately 250 food concessions locations at 75 parks

Food policy category: Diet and nutrition, sustainable agriculture

Program goals

  • Provide healthy and sustainable food options for park visitors
  • Encourage park visitors to choose healthier food options
  • Reduce the environmental footprint of the food served in National Parks

Program initiation

  • In 2011, the NPS launched the Healthy Parks Healthy People USA initiative. Goal number 8 of the initiative required that “all concession contracts require multiple healthy, sustainable [sic] produced and reasonably priced food options at national park concessions.”
  • Healthy food standards that new concessions contracts must abide by were released in 2012. These standards could also be applied to existing contracts if the concessioner agreed.

How it works

All new concessions contract that have been signed since 2012 have had to abide by the NPS Healthy Food Choice Standards and Sustainable Food Choice Guidelines. Concessioners that were already under contract at the time these standards and guidelines were released were encouraged to adopt them voluntarily.

The Healthy Food Choice Standards require that all entrees come with at least one fruit or vegetable, that low-fat and fat-free milk products be available, and that at least 30 percent of beverages offered have no added sugar. They also require every menu to have at least one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian option that are 800 calories or less, and are designated as low fat and low sodium. If these menu items include grains, they must be whole grains.

Concession locations that prepare food to order must offer the option of having the food steamed or grilled rather than fried. When they do fry food, the chefs are forbidden from using oil with trans fat. Concessioners are also required to offer half portions when possible.

Finally, food establishments must display a “healthy choice” label on dishes that meet these standards, and they must include nutritional information on these items. Concessioners are prohibited from making fried foods “specials” or “featured” items.

The Sustainable Food Guidelines are not mandatory.  They may be added by the NPS as requirements in a new contract if determined appropriate for the location by the NPS or may be used as guidelines for the concessioner to voluntarily enhance the quality of their offerings.  .

The guidelines suggest that seafood should be procured from responsibly managed, sustainable fisheries. They also suggest using ingredients that are in season and locally grown, and serving coffee that is shade grown and fair trade.

The guidelines also encourage serving eggs, meat and seafood raised without hormones or antibiotics. Finally, concessioners are encouraged to give label certain menu items as “sustainable choices” or “made with organic ingredients.”

Progress to date

Dozens of contractors that work with the NPS have made major changes since the program began. ARAMARK has been working with local growers to supply food for the Lake Crescent Lodge at Olympic National Park in Washington. Xanterra has formed a partnership with Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade, MT, to supply local dairy to multiple concession locations.

Guest Services, has been serving sustainable seafood, locally-raised poultry, and dairy products that are free of growth hormone. Guest Services has also introduced a new menu feature called FitPicks at their National Mall location. The FitPicks option guides customers to choose an entree and a side that total less than 600 calories.

Delaware North, which has services in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Shenandoah and other parks, get a steady supply of seasonal vegetables cook with free-range beef, antibiotic-and hormone-free pork, and organic turkey.

Why the program is important

The program deals with two main issues: poor diet and environmental destruction caused by agriculture.

About one third of the US population is overweight or obese. The rates of diabetes and cancer have risen over the last three decades, and the rate of heart disease experienced a recent uptick.

Studies have shown that improved diet and nutrition has the potential to combat these health problems. Consuming more fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of obesity. Consuming less sugar leads to a decreased risk in obesity, diabetes, and possibly cancer. Reducing sodium consumption can combat heart disease, as can eliminating trans fat.

When it comes to the environment, industrial agriculture is a major contributor to pollution and global warming. Studies have found that industrial agriculture has degraded land, depleted fisheries, and threatened biodiversity. Agriculture in the U.S. alone has polluted 173,000 miles of waterways.

Research has shown that using organic farming methods and growing food as locally as possible can create a more sustainable agricultural system.


In 2015, the National Park Service gave Yellowstone National Park an Environmental Achievement Award for the healthy and sustainable menus in their 17 restaurants. In 2015, 38 percent of Yellowstone’s food was sustainably sourced, and that number continues to increase.

Learn more

Point of contact

Diana Allen:



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