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.


Do you know how many households in America are growing food at home or in a community garden? Answer: 35% or 42 million households; that’s up 17% in 5 years!

Not only do gardens provide nourishing foods, but healthy physical activity as well! As we begin our Grow a Healthy Summer theme, this week’s activity supports gardening as a FUN form of active play for kids and families!

Hear – See – Do Activity Idea

Help kids hear the message that growing a garden can offer fun active play.

Let them see examples of gardening tasks.

Let them do by acting out gardening tasks

  1. Ask kids questions that relate to a healthy balance of foods and physical activity.
  • How many people do you know that have a garden?
  • Name some gardening tasks. (hoeing, digging, carrying bags of soil or pots)
  • What type of physical activity could these gardening tasks add to your day? (lifting weights, reaching, bending and stretching)

2. Have kids act out the gardening tasks mentioned, or perform those tasks outside.
3. Explain that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and that gardening is a FUN way of being outside and active! Challenge kids to help with gardening tasks at home or seek out opportunities with a community garden.

More Move & Learn ideas like these can be found in our Balance My Day™curriculum and Berry, Berry Good booklet.

bal my day cov K_2 101027 (2)Berry, Berry, Good image

Parent tips are ideal for school event handouts and to link Healthy6 messages to home. Check them out!


Teach Children How to Grow Fruits and Vegetableschild-vegetable-garden-01

Use Gardening to Teach Children Nutrition Education


Too many applesScreen Free Week is May 5-11, 2014! Within the Balance My Day™ curriculum, you can find fun and effective Screen Free week lessons that help kids make the screen-free, active play connection. Here are just a few examples to help you plan your Screen Free Week activities with the kids you lead:

A Lesson from the Balance My Day curriculum™ (need a copy? Get one here):

  • How Media Influences Eating and Weight – Grades 6-8, Influences Lesson 1, p. 41
    • Example: Ask kids what % of the time they view some type of media while eating. Explain for the next 5 days, kids will use a log on the worksheet to track and answer questions about media-free meals.
  •  How Do Healthy Habits Stack Up? – Grades 6-8, Active Play Lesson 2, p. 177
    • Example: If activity is to compete with time for screen entertainment, physical activity choices need to be FUN. It needs to be something that is a “want to do” rather than a “have to do.” Therefore, think of physical activity as Active Play.
    • Have kids list on a piece of paper:
      • activities you can do by yourself
      • activities you can do to have fun with friends and family
      • activities you can do in 10-15 minutes
      • sports interests
    • Ask kids to choose at least 2 Active Play ideas listed, which they personally consider fun and would choose to do.
    • Have them set a goal to DO one of those 2 ideas instead of screen time during Screen Free Week.

Take the Screen Free Week Pledge
Adults and Kids:

  • Watch no TV or DVDs, play no video or mobile games, and only use the computer if it’s required for work;
  • Encourage my friends and family to go screen-free with me;
  • Explore new screen-free activities; and

Try out a Screen Free Play Plan from TRUCE
They have new seasonal play plans, including one for Gardening! The others include one for bubbles and string play. The Screen Free Play Plan: Gardening says it all: “Turn off the screens & turn on the gardening”.

Be sure to share your Screen Free Week activities in the comments here or over on our Facebook Page!

Use these “Plant a Seed” challenges for students, staff and family during April!

  • Fruits & Veggies – Plant a Seed…for Bountiful Fruits & Veggies
  • Drink Think – Plant a Seed…Water Nurtures Plants and People
  • Snack Attack – Plant a Seed…for Healthy Snack Changes
  • Smart Servings – Plant a Seed…for Smart Servings with Fruits & Veggies
  • Breakfast – Plant a Seed…to Grow a Healthy Breakfast Habit
  • Active Play – Plant a Seed…Include Active Play in the Day

All of the Healthy Me Challenge sheets above enhance the tips and lessons in the following links:

Healthy Kids Activities for Garden Month
Dig In! – Kids Gardening Lessons from USDA

Happy Garden Month!

Help kids plant a seed for healthy habits, literally and figuratively! These HKC Healthy6 classroom and afterschool activities provide easy to teach, fun to learn nutrition and active play education, especially for National Garden Month.
Hear-See-Do:  Hear a message—See how to make a healthy choice—Do practice making the choice

Utilize these in combination with our Balance My Day™ curriculum, other Gardening Month education plans, or get creative with your own ideas. One kids gardening curriculum we are especially fond of is Dig In! from the USDA Team Nutrition. Stay tuned next week for more about kids, family, and school gardens!

Enjoy Garden Month with the kids you lead!


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