Researcher Instructions

Step by Step:
Preparation - 1. Understand the GFC and GF Standards | 2. Contact MX | 3. Determine the scope | 4. Meet with your food service administrators
Onboarding - 5. Create online account | 6. Meet your IO | 7. Create a new Calculator assessment | 8. Submit an Assessment Plan | 9. Acquire the necessary invoices | 10. Complete the researcher training
Calculating - 11. Prepare your spreadsheets | 12. Research Good Food | 13. Participate in a Quality Control Data Check
Review - 14. Check your work | 15. Submit your results | 16. Make revisions  | 17. Upload your data18. Complete an exit interview | 19. Interpret your results


1. Understand the Good Food Challenge and Good Food Standards (2-3 hrs) 
If you're new to the Good Food Calculator, get an understanding of exactly what the Calculator is, its purpose, and how it works. This will benefit you greatly during meetings with faculty, staff, and other students. 
  • Check out the Good Food Challenge on the Meal Exchange website to learn more about the context of the Calculator. 
  • Read these required training documents before continuing to the next step: 
    • Researcher Instructions (this page) 
    • The Good Food Guide, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library
    • The Good Food Standards Package, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library
  • Take note of the kind of support you’ll need from your campus to run a successful audit - start thinking about which staff and faculty you know, and who might be interested in supporting you. 
2. Contact Meal Exchange (5 mins) 
Contact us at  to let us know that you're interested in running the Good Food Calculator! We will be in touch with you shortly to support you with running the Calculator on your campus. 

3. Determine the scope of the project (2-5 hrs) 
Figure out how big your research team will be, how large your assessment will be, and whether you'll get academic credit, internship credit, or get paid to do the Good Food Calculator. 

Questions to consider: 
  • How large will your research team be? How will the size of your team impact the efficiency of your research? 
    • If there is a team of researchers, will there be one main point of contact between Meal Exchange, Food Services, and your team? How will you coordinate research tasks? 
  • Which months of purchasing will you assess? 
    • At a minimum, you need to include a representative sample of at least two months (e.g. one fall, one winter). You can also assess additional months based on the capacity of your team. 
  • How many dining halls/cafeterias/food facilities do you want to investigate? 
    • You should assess at least one primary dining hall that is representative of food service on campus. 
    • You may want to include retail outlets and franchises if their purchasing patterns differ significantly. 
  • What format do your campus' invoices come in? 
    • We highly recommend trying to acquire digital invoices or purchasing records, whenever possible. 
    • Ask your food service administrator if they keep digital purchasing records. These may come in the form of "velocity reports" directly from vendors, or may be exportable reports from an electronic purchasing management system. If your food service administrators do not have these on hand, they may be able to request them from vendors. 
  • When and how will you complete your assessment? 
    • Consider your schedule and how much time you have to devote to research. Are you trying to fit it within a certain time period, such as one academic year? Keep in mind that Step #9 (Acquire the necessary invoices) can take 3+ months. Although acquiring invoices doesn’t take much from your end, it can require a lot of work and preparation from Food Service staff, and this usually isn’t in your control. Therefore, when considering a schedule, please consider completing up to Step #9 before confirming a formal deadline for the Calculator research. 
    • Consider the logistics of researching. For example, you might not be able to take paper invoices out of your dining service administrator's office. 
  • How will you build Calculator research into your school's programs? Some examples include: 
    • Course credit - At its heart, the Good Food Challenge pilot process is a research project. This project could be entrenched in course curriculum, it could be designed as an internship or independent study, or it could be a major project in a course. By arranging to get credit for the project, you may be able to carve out more time for it, access resources and institutional support through your professor, and use the opportunity of course timetables and deadlines to frame your work. 
      • As mentioned above, it is important to consider the length of time that Step #9 can take when designing course projects. Sometimes, the waiting period to acquire invoices can expand beyond the scope of one semester, or one school project. Consider confirming access to invoices, or better yet, completing Step #9, before finalizing your plans. 
    • Paid position - Many students have created a paid position in the sustainability office, Students’ Union, dining office, or other campus department, in which they can complete the Calculator. Supportive faculty members may be able to create a paid work-op position, champion administrators’ councils might be interested in providing a small honourarium to sponsor your work, or the Sustainability Office or Students’ Union might have resources to carve out a paid position. 
  • What will your work schedule look like? Will you create regular office hours to complete your research? Will you set up regular meetings with your contact in Food Services, and your contact at Meal Exchange? 
4. Meet with your food service administrator and designate an Institutional Official (2 hrs) 
Preparing for the meeting: 
Once you feel comfortable with the Calculator, schedule a meeting with your food service administrator to explain the Good Food Challenge and invite them to participate. If you want ideas of how to write an introductory email, check out the Template: Introductory email to food service staff, found under Email Templates for Researchers in your Calculator Toolkit Library. 

For more ideas on how to prepare a successful meeting, check out the following resources: 
During the meeting: 
  • A. Explain the Good Food Challenge! 
    • BONUS: Be prepared with a list of talking points you hope to cover in the meeting, including general information on Meal Exchange and the Good Food Challenge. Include options for how to complete the Calculator (internship? for credit?) and important details about the Calculator in which they may be interested, such as which other schools nearby are using it and what sorts of foods can count as Good Food. 
  • B. Build a strong relationship right away. Share why Good Food matters to you, and ask why it matters to them (think back to the Storytelling toolkit). Learn about the challenges they face in their position, and what drives their passion. Demonstrate your responsibility, professionalism, and passion for this project, and remember that you are working with them, not against them. 
  • C. Open the Instructions for Food Service staff webpage and walk through each step to explain what support you are looking for. 
    • BONUS: Emphasize the importance of Step #6 (Provide Purchasing Invoices) right away. Remember that acquiring the invoices can take a long time. The sooner you request access, the sooner you can acquire them. 
      • It is necessary that you make the request for invoices immediately (well in advance of when you plan to start your research) because assembling the invoices may take some time. 
      • Be willing to negotiate how you want to work with the invoices. Some food service administrators may simply give you copies of the dining hall invoices, while others may want you to work with them under supervision within specific office hours. 
      • Be sure to ask if you have access to digital purchasing records (in the form of velocity reports from vendors, outputs from purchasing management software, or other digital record keeping mechanisms). Digital purchasing records will save you a lot of time. 
      • Some dining services may ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to look at data and perform the calculator. If you have questions about this, please contact the Meal Exchange Coordinator. 
  • D. Identify a food service staff member to serve as the Institutional Official (IO). This is someone who has the ability to grant access to invoices, (typically a food service manager or staff person). Once a food service staff member has been designated as the IO, this person will be the main contact/liaison between you, Meal Exchange staff, and food services. The IO approves your Assessment Plan before you can begin your research. 
  • E. Schedule a meeting with the IO for the near future to complete the Campus Food Baseline Survey and register the IO online. 
After the meeting: 
Send a follow-up email right after to thank them for their support and confirm your next meeting date. If you want ideas of how to write a follow-up email, check out the Template: Follow up email after first meeting with food service staff, found under Email Templates for Researchers in your Calculator Toolkit Library. 


5. Create an online account and institutional profile (20 mins) 
Create a User Account:
You and your research team will need to sign up online on the Good Food Calculator website. After you fill in your personal information, you will receive an authorization email with a link to confirm your account. 

Create or Affiliate with an Institutional Profile:
Click on the button that says "Connect to a college or institution." First, search for your institution to see if there is an existing profile to affiliate with. Other members of the institutional profile can approve your affiliation request. You will be approved as a "member" of the institutional profile. To obtain "Researcher" status, you must complete the Researcher Training (Step #10). 

If you are certain there is no existing profile, then click the button that says "Add an institution." You will be asked basic information about your institution (all of which should be available on your school's website). Be sure to include all the dining facilities you intend to assess (or might assess) in your institutional profile. 

6. Meet your Institutional Official, complete the Campus Food Baseline Survey, and register your IO online (3-5 hrs) 
Now it’s time to meet with your IO to introduce yourself, (if this is a new contact), and complete the Campus Food Baseline Survey, as scheduled in Step #4E. The Campus Food Baseline Survey must be updated every year, as the information collected in it may change year to year. The purpose of the Campus Food Baseline Survey is to help you get acquainted with your school's dining service infrastructure and set up a framework for collecting data for the Calculator. The Campus Food Baseline Survey is accessible through your Calculator homepage after logging in. 

The Campus Food Baseline Survey can only be completed by student researchers, but you will likely need to ask your IO, or other food service staff, for help in answering some of the questions. 

Preparing for the meeting: 
  • It's best to take a look at the questions in advance, complete as many questions as you are able to on your own, and make a list of specific questions that you can't find the answers to. 
  • Confirm the date, time and location of the meeting with your IO, and thank them for their time. 
  • Invite them to register as an Institutional Official by going to your dashboard and clicking the red button that says "Add an official." This will send them an email with a link that allows them to sign up as an Institutional Official and automatically affiliate with your institution. 
  • If your IO wishes to see the Campus Food Baseline Survey in advance of the meeting, feel free to share the Campus Food Baseline Survey Questions .pdf, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library. 
  • Review the plans you made when determine the scope of your research (Step #3) so you can share your vision with the IO, and adapt accordingly. 
  • Review the resources on how to prepare a successful meeting, as outlined in Step #4
During the meeting: 
  • A. Introduce yourselves, share your vision for Good Food on campus, and remind the IO about gathering invoices. 
  • B. If you didn’t send the link in advance, you can ask the IO to create a User Account now, and to select “Dining Service Provider Staff” as the user category, and then affiliate with the Institutional Profile. 
  • C. Complete any unanswered questions in the Campus Food Baseline Survey together. 
  • D. Depending on your IO’s capacity, you may be able to set up regular bi-monthly or monthly meeting times, or dates for regular email updates. It’s best to confirm these dates while you’re together, to ensure you can coordinate. 
  • E. Confirm the details and scope of your research (from Step #3) - what months will you research, what does the research group look like, and what is your timeline for the project? You will need this information in order to complete Step #8 (Submit an Assessment Plan). 
After the meeting: 
  • Contact the Meal Exchange Coordinator to approve the Institutional Official. (IO’s must receive approval in order to receive special privileges to view Calculator data and results) and the Campus Food Baseline Survey. 
  • Thank the IO for their time and knowledge, and confirm next steps. 
  • If you are able to confirm regular check-ins with your IO, take a look at the Template: Regular check-in email updates with food service staff, found under Email Templates for Researchers in your Calculator Toolkit Library. You can use this template as an example of how to keep in touch in a professional, consistent manner. 
7. Create a new Calculator assessment (5 mins) 
The next step is to create a new assessment for the year you are planning to assess. You can do this by clicking on the button that says “Start a new assessment.” We recommend that you assess the current academic year to have the most relevant results. 

8. Submit an Assessment Plan (10 mins) 
Create an Assessment Plan: 
Click on the "Assessment Plan" link for your current assessment. Using the plans you made when you determined the scope of your project (Step #3), answer questions about your planned Calculator assessment by filling out a quick form. The form will ask what months you plan to assess, who will be involved in the assessment, and how you plan to delegate the research and data input. 

Approval of Assessment Plan: 
Both Meal Exchange staff and your Institutional Official must approve your Assessment Plan before you can move to the next steps. Once MX approves the plan, an email will be automatically sent to your Institutional Official with a link for them to review and approve the plan. Because dining staff are busy people and often away from email, you may need to remind them to do this. 

After your Assessment Plan has been approved, your online Assessment will be open and ready for data. 

9. Acquire the necessary invoices (2 weeks - 3+ months) 
Acquiring invoices doesn’t take much from your end, but it can require a lot of work and preparation from Food Service staff. In some cases, students have waited 3+ months to get access to the invoices they need. Make sure to sure to request the invoices well in advance of when you plan to begin your assessment. 

Contact your IO, and confirm the following details: 
  • How are you accessing the invoices? Will you have copies of them, or do you have to borrow originals under supervision? 
  • Are the invoices digital or paper copies? Remember, Meal Exchange recommends digital purchasing records as they will save you a lot of time. 
  • Do you have to sign a confidentiality agreement? 
  • Do the invoices have all the information you require to complete your research? Confirm with your IO that the invoices contain AT LEAST the following information: 
    • Name of product and/or product number 
    • Brand name of product and/or Universal Product Code 
    • Contact information for vendors or brands 
    • Dollar amount spent (this information is not connected to amounts of product) 
10. Complete the Researcher Training (2 hrs) 
Once you've completed steps 1-9, you're eligible for the Researcher Training. 

In your Calculator Toolkit Library, you will see a series of Calculator Training Modules. Watch this series of videos, and once you have a confident grasp of the information, reach out to your contact at Meal Exchange to get formal approval as a Researcher. 


11. Prepare your spreadsheets to do research (5 hrs per month of data with digital purchasing records; 15 hrs per month of data with paper purchasing records) 
*Before starting this step, please refer to the Tracking Spreadsheet Tips, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library, for full instructions. 

When you're ready to begin researching, download the Template tracking spreadsheet for student researchers, found under Assessment Tracking Toolkits in your Calculator Toolkit Library. Follow the instructions in the Tracking Spreadsheet Tips to format the spreadsheet correctly. 

If you have digital invoices, copy and paste your invoice data from the digital purchasing records into the template research spreadsheet. Alternatively, enter your data in manually from paper invoices into the template research spreadsheet. 

12. Research Good Food (200-400 hrs per 2 months of data) 
*Before starting this step, please refer to the Assessment Tips, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library, for full instructions. 

Research the food and companies from which your school purchases! The amount of time that the research takes varies based on the number of unique products that your campus purchases as well as the form of the data. On average, teams with digital invoices should expect to spend about 100 research hours per month assessed, while teams with only paper invoices should expect to spend around 200 research hours per month assessed. Teams with a mix of digital and paper invoices tend to require about 150 research hours per month assessed. 

Use the Good Food Guide, and your own research strategies (phone, internet, in person) to determine whether each product is "Good" — Community-based, Socially-just, Ecologically-sound, or Humane. 

 Keep good research notes: store producers’ contact information, and a record of your communications; record what you learn and your source for the information; store everything in a digital folder that you can easily pass on to future researchers. 

Consult the Assessment Tips, found in your Calculator Toolkit Library, throughout the process. The other resources you will likely need during the research process include (their purposes are explained in the Assessment Tips): 
  • Calculator FAQ found in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template letter of Endorsement found under Assessment Tracking Toolkits in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template tracking spreadsheet for student researchers found under Assessment Tracking Toolkits in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template tracking spreadsheet for suppliers found under Assessment Tracking Toolkits in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template call/email log found under Assessment Tracking Toolkits in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template: Introductory email to distributor for research (send with assessment tracking toolkits) found under Email Templates for Researchers in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
  • Template: Follow up email to distributor for research found under Email Templates for Researchers in your Calculator Toolkit Library 
13. Participate in a Quality Control Data Check (2-4 hrs) 
One month into your project, contact Meal Exchange staff to help you run a Quality Control Data Check. It's best to catch any mistakes sooner rather than later! 


14. Check your work (2-4 hrs) 
Once you've entirely completed your research, contact Meal Exchange staff to help you check your work. Once your work has been reviewed, you can submit your final results to the Meal Exchange team for formal review! 

15. Submit your results to Meal Exchange for review (5 mins) 
Email your completed spreadsheets to your contact at Meal Exchange. We'll check for common research errors and for any red flags in your final research. 

16. Make revisions to your research (20 mins - 2 hrs) 
Once the Meal Exchange team has emailed your spreadsheets back to you, make any revisions they've pointed out, and re-submit your spreadsheets for final approval. 

17. Upload your data (1 hr) 
After making any revisions noted by Meal Exchange, your data is ready to upload! If you haven't already done so, ask your dining service administrator for the total budget for each of the months you assessed, and upload your data to your profile. 

Once you have uploaded all of your data, your progress percentage for each month should read 100%. When you reach 100% complete on all months in your assessment, you will be able to view your preliminary results. 

Finally, book an exit interview to complete the review process, and your results will be approved. Congratulations on a job well done! 

18. Complete an exit interview (1 hr) 
Reflection and evaluation are an essential part of campus organizing, and feedback is a significant part of improving the Calculator! After you complete step 16, contact the Meal Exchange team to schedule an exit interview. We’ll cover topics including: 
  • Reflecting on the research practices your team used to complete the audit 
  • Reflecting on the overall Calculator experience at your campus 
  • Reflecting on the Calculator results 
  • Strategizing plans for sharing the results with your campus (or broader!) community 
  • Visioning next steps for increasing your campuses’ Good Food percentage Discussing lessons learned and common mistakes to share your wisdom with future researchers 
In some cases, you may need to further revise your data. 

19. Interpret Your Results (1-2 hrs) 
Review the "Reports" tab in the online Assessment Tool and interpret the charts and graphs provided. Feel free to do additional analysis of your own, and use the spreadsheet as an exportable excel file. 

Ask yourself these questions: 
  • Where is most Good Food coming from — which product categories and which of the Good Food categories? 
  • Are there opportunities to celebrate your Dining Services and educate the campus community about existing Good Food purchases? 
  • Is there "low-hanging fruit" for more Good Food purchasing? These would be products that you could easily change to increase your percentage of Good Food. Talk with your dining manager about opportunities for sourcing Good Food - perhaps there are ways to collaborate with dining on an applied research project. Many students have visited farms and community suppliers together with dining; this can build trust and strengthen your relationship. 
  • What types of changes would you recommend? 
Consider how you might want to share your results. Here are some options: 
  • Write a report or give a presentation to a Good Food Campus Committee, Food Systems Working Group, student government, the office of sustainability, dining services, etc. 
    • Take a look at the Campaign Toolkit Library on the Meal Exchange Website for resources and ideas 
  • Write an op-ed for the school newspaper 
  • Convene a meeting with students, foodservice staff, faculty, administrators, etc. to discuss findings and the implications for the school's food procurement 
Consider how to make the assessment an annual process: 
  • If you did the calculator as a class project or for academic credit, talk to the professor about how to make sure it can happen again. 
  • If you did the calculator as an internship or job, are there plans to continue the opportunity/position next semester or next year? 
  • Regardless of how the Calculator is run, are there resources in place to pass on your knowledge, so the next researcher can receive adequate training? 
Consider how you can enact change on your campus to get more Good Food: 
  • Get in touch with your local Meal Exchange Chapter to plan Good Food Campaign activities on your campus. 
  • Talk with your Food Services Manager about opportunities for sourcing Good Food. Are there opportunities for applied research, work-ops or internships? These opportunities may exist independently within your school, or in partnership with farms and community suppliers. 
  • Talk to Meal Exchange staff and other similar campuses to share Campaign ideas, and take action for more Good Food as a national network. 
Congratulations: You’re done! Check out our website - - for information on how you can stay involved.
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Good Food Challenge, a joint project of Meal Exchange and the Real Food Challenge, is an international student campaign dedicated to creating a healthy, just and sustainable food system. Our goal is to shift $1 billion in institutional food spending to 'good food.'
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