Creative Cafeterias

October 16, 2017

Teenager eating healthy lunch with friends in school lunchroom

The National School Lunch Program serves more than 30 million children every school day. Of the 5 billion lunches served annually, the USDA reports (Source: USDA FY 2016 preliminary data) there are:

  • 20.1 million free lunches
  • 2.0 million reduced price lunches (students pay $0.40)
  • 8.2 million full price lunches

School Nutrition professionals are continuously asked to do more with less. Food isn’t their only cost; there are also the costs of labor, supplies, and indirects (e.g., electricity, custodial help). A recent School Nutrition Association survey revealed that nearly eight in every ten school districts have had to take steps to offset financial losses since the new nutrition standards were implemented. Actions include reducing staffing, deferring or cancelling equipment investments, and diminishing the meal program’s reserve fund, which is critical for investing in program improvement.

Despite these challenges, School Nutrition professionals are demonstrating their creativity and care for children. Conduct a search for school lunch (meal) success and sites like the following will pop up:

  • School Nutrition Association’s Tray Talk blog and Facebook page for parents feature school meal programs nationwide that are finding creative ways to improve menus and get students excited about healthier choices.
  • On Pinterest, Rock in School Meals has posted Grab-N-Go meal ideas.
  • School Meals That Rock is an organization that features school nutrition programs.

Creative successes include:

  • Student involvement: Healthy Kids Challenge worked with one Florida school to conduct a fun HKC Ready-Set-Cook-and-Eat event, during which students created dishes that became school menu items! A recent School Nutrition Association survey found that 72.3% involve students through taste tests/sampling.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: The program focuses on the interests and expertise of each chef volunteer and the needs of each school.
  • Farm to school programs to incorporate local foods into the menu.
  • School gardens.
  • Food trucks serving summer meals, and at another Florida school, a “Truck of the Month Program.”
  • Grab-and-Go Meals.
  • Food service directors “coaching” nutrition.

Celebrate these and other accomplishments! Share your success on the Healthy Kids Challenge Facebook page.


Resources for Choose MyPlate with School Nutrition
Whether you’re attending the Annual National Conference or not, if you’re reading this, you’re ready to TAKE ACTION! Lead the way to creating a healthier school environment and meet criteria for both the new USDA meal guidelines and the HealthierUS School Challenge program using MyPlate.

One of our greatest success stories using this model is Jackson Middle School in Orlando, Florida. They expanded their healthy eating options and offered more choices of vegetables at meals. The outcome was a healthy impact on fruit and vegetable consumption! Middle school students (600 total enrollment) are now eating over 400 more servings combined of fruits and vegetables at lunch each day! Read their success story. Engage students, excite staff, and help School Nutrition lead the way by exploring MyPlate.

Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition
A fun, easy-to-use guide with tips and tools for school nutrition services managers and teams. Action ideas are designed to increase participation through marketing and promotion and help meet the HealthierUS School Challenge.

HealthierUS School Challenge
HKC can help align your school with the HealthierUS School Challenge through comprehensive training for improving school meal programs, nutrition education, and physical education/physical activity. We are currently working with 40 Indiana Team Nutrition Schools who receive training and distance assistance.

Chefs Move to Schools
Healthy Kids Challenge partnered with Orange County Public Schools to make their Chefs Move to Schools program and event a success! The event was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama and Let’s Move! With White House Assistant Chef and Food Initiative Coordinator Chef Sam Kass and Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in attendance, it was a very exciting day! Let us help you with your own Chefs Move to Schools program or event.

Creative Cafeterias
Everyone wins with our Creative Cafeteria tips. Tasty, likable and healthy meals are a key component of a healthy environment and provide a great backdrop for learning by example. Try them out and see which work best for you!

“Much has changed in the past year with the change from MyPyramid to MyPlate in June 2011, plus new school meal program guidelines now July 1st, 2012, and corresponding changes in the HealthierUS School Challenge program application. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share with school nutrition leaders from across the country the Healthy Kids Challenge ideas and activities to make all of this work for them and their program. What a great way to help kids by making the school cafeteria the true nutrition learning lab!” — Vickie L. James, RD, LD, Executive Director, Healthy Kids Challenge

I’m presenting a session on Monday the 16th 3:30 pm and again on Tues 17th 8:45am – “Choose MyPlate with School Nutrition” — Vickie L. James

Our brand of nutrition education is unique because it doesn’t always begin in the classroom. Of course it can if you use the new Balance My Day nutrition education curriculum, but what I’m talking about takes that concept and spreads it everywhere kids live, learn and play.

Schools, businesses, communities, healthcare organizations, families, and kids can all support a culture of health. Nutrition education is just one of the ways each of us can help in the fight against childhood obesity. It’s becoming easier now than ever before with the national Let’s Move campaign. There’s something everyone can do.

See below for some of the highlights of what we’re doing with our unique twist on nutrition education beyond classroom curriculum…from win-win partnerships to toolkits, from student chefs to a national recipe contest.

1. Top 5 Ways Healthy Kids Challenge Supports Let’s Move

2. Chef Inspired, Kid Approved

3. Partner Spotlight: Orange County Public Schools OCPS

4. 3 Students Win “Chef for a Day” at School

5. MyPlate, Meet Colorful Plates…Helping Kids Be Healthy

6. Timely Trio: The PEP Grant, Healthy Kids Challenge and SPARK

7. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids: 4 Actions Schools Can Take Now

OCPS Chef and Student with Healthy Kids Challenge Director

OCPS student, chef with Healthy Kids Challenge Director

Orange County Public Schools OCPS, Orlando, Florida, and Healthy Kids Challenge have been Partners In Health for several years now. From energizing school wellness teams to offering creative ways to get kids excited about school meals through the HKC Ready, Set, Cook and Eat event, to showcasing how to integrate nutrition education into science and math curriculum, many success stories exist.


The most recent and the most honoring for all involved is the Healthy Kids Challenge involvement with OCPS in their Chefs Move to Schools program.


The Orlando Sentinel has featured many fun pictures here: Pictures: OCPS Chefs’ new menu promotion at Edgewater High School

Hats off to Orange County Public Schools from Healthy Kids Challenge! 

Just one example of how creative partnerships can mastermind simple solutions to health.

Chef Inspired, Kid Approved

February 14, 2011

Healthy Kids Challenge was honored to help Orange County Public Schools unveil new Chef Inspired, Kid Approved school lunch recipes at a unique Chefs Move to Schools event at Edgewater High School Auditorium, Orlando, FL, in celebration of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and Senior White House Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives (far right), and Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (right), watch as Metrowest Elementary School chef students show off their recipes. (USDA photo by Debbie Smoot)

Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and Senior White House Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives (far right), and Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (right), watch as Metrowest Elementary School chef students show off their recipes. (USDA photo by Debbie Smoot)

The official Let’s Move Blog features USDA Deputy Under Secretary for the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Dr. Janey Thornton’s account of the event. 

We join Dr. Janey Thornton, Chef Sam Kass, Orange County Public Schools’ (OCPS) Foodservice Director, Lora Gilbert, and all the chefs, students, teachers, support staff, and administrators in celebrating this exciting event!

We recognize, too, that this was no small feat! Imagine all the work it took to bring 10 schools together to work with outside chefs and create new healthy recipes to use for school lunch. We believe OCPS is a model school district for food and nutrition. Stay tuned, because this is only the beginning!

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