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.

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Set the Stage for Wellness

January 9, 2017

Cute Hispanic elementary school student holding tray of cafeteria food

Studies show that children eat approximately one-third of their daily food intake while at school.

When students have the option, they are more likely to purchase foods and beverages that are high in calories, fats, and/or sugar. On the school campus these foods are called competitive foods because they compete with school meals. These options are frequently found in places such as vending machines, school stores, à la carte lines, class parties, and as fundraisers.

Setting the stage requires wellness policies with guides to meet standards for healthier choices. For the policies to be successful they also need widespread acceptance. From the people who implement the policy to those who are impacted by it, success has the greatest potential when the following actions are taken:

  1. Involve everyone in the process, including the creation and implementation of the policies. If you don’t have a Student Advisory Group (SAG), it can be very helpful to create one. SAG can conduct surveys with peers to obtain constructive feedback.
  2. Instead of “reinventing the wheel,” learn from the lessons learned by others. See the January 11th issue of the WOWS Newsletter for helpful resources.
  3. Through marketing and nutrition education, create an interest in wellness. The Healthy Kids Challenge Explore MyPlate With School Nutrition Guidebook is an easy-to-use guide with tips and tools for school nutrition services managers and wellness teams! Action ideas are designed to increase participation through marketing and promotion and help meet the HealthierUS School Challenge. Content includes MyPlate, trivia, bulletin boards, food science experiments to link with curriculum standards, menu planning tips, and fun ideas for youth advisory councils. The guidebook is designed for programs serving students in grades K-8.

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Schools participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative are working towards helping kids make healthy eating choices a habit. A smarter lunchroom is one that nudges kids towards nutritious foods.

Solutions for creating Smarter Lunchrooms are low cost/no-cost and easily implemented, such as:

  • Creating an appealing lunchroom environment
  • Promoting healthful eating behaviors
  • Sustaining the positive changes made

Best practices and lunchroom solutions that the Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative endorses have been studied and proven effective in a wide variety of schools across the nation. Examples include:

Studies have also shown that:

Over 30 million children are fed by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Smarter Lunchrooms are making a healthy difference!

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