Date of Award



© 2020 Rosie Rochelle Slentz

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Heather Wilmot

Second Advisor

Darren Akerman

Third Advisor

Christine Frazier


This mixed-methods case study was used to examine a small school district in a rural setting that operates a child nutrition program without encroaching on the general fund, while still serving organic, made-from-scratch meals. Current research confirms that school districts are challenged to balance the requirements of the National School Lunch Program while maintaining quality. School lunch programs, particularly small rural ones, are operating at a deficit. This researcher addressed an important gap by providing a comprehensive account of a fiscally sound cafeteria budget in a rural area for a small school, serving 150 lunches per day. In this study, the researcher examined the characteristics that support a financially viable lunch program in a small rural school district. The primary research question for this study asked, “How can small, rural schools operate a nutrition program that is financially self-sustaining?” The supporting research questions were used to explore what factors or practices the nutrition director, administrator, and business manager of a small, rural school nutrition program perceived positively contribute to or impede the operation of a self-funding nutrition program. There were three participants in this single-site, case study: a district administrator, nutrition director, and business manager. In addition, data was collected from a survey, interviews, observation, and the following artifacts: wellness policy, lunch menus, production records, and the cafeteria budget. The data collected affirmed that the primary drivers of the success of this program are commitment to quality food, dedicated staff, a conscientious attitude towards waste and spending, and a well-designed and equipped onsite kitchen. The most prominent challenges to this self-sustaining program include lack of time, few vendors who deliver the desired ingredients, and difficulty finding and retaining qualified staff. Small, rural, lunch programs will have the best chance at success if they support dedicated staff, invest in an on-site kitchen, procure quality ingredients, prepare meals from scratch, and provide students with hands-on learning about the food system. Further research should include multicase studies of small rural cafeteria programs to identify benchmarks of operating expenses. These studies should include sites with viable budgets and sites that encroach on the general fund.


Ed.D. Dissertation