Student reaching for healthy food in school cafeteria

Schools are working to improve appeal for healthier food choices.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service published a great tool to help schools rejuvenate cafeterias with colorful fruits and vegetables. The toolkit, Fruits & Vegetables Galore: Helping Kids Eat More, provides excellent downloadable resources.

Tips start with creating a plan, getting “buy in” and taking the lead to address a national health problem. There is a whole resource devoted to creating meal appeal.

Other resources provide:

  • Detail for setting up salad bars, prepared salads
  • Marketing and training
  • Developing quality food service

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.

Elementary Pupils Collecting Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria

Actions to Make a Healthy Difference Everywhere Kids Go

Plan demonstrations of how kids (and adults) can achieve healthy balance everywhere they live learn work and play. This month’s HKC Newsletter, Wednesday WOWS, focuses on interactive demonstration activities connected to:

  • School happenings (National School Lunch Week)
  • Holiday celebrations (Halloween/Fall Festivals)
  • Health fairs
  • The classroom

And the activity ideas can be used for many different places and age groups. They have been used anywhere from libraries to zoos and for pre-school to seniors. For a staff wellness meeting, try this interactive healthy goal setting activity:

Make up puzzles with a healthy message such as “Enjoy a Walk,” “Choose a Variety of Fruit and Veggie Colors,” and “Make Smart Serving Choices.” Create one puzzle for every 4-6 people, each with a different color background to make putting the puzzle together easier. When each person comes into the room, they choose one puzzle piece. At a designated time, have participants find like colors and put their puzzle pieces together to identify the message. If time permits, have each puzzle “group” talk about the message and how they could incorporate it into their day (this activity idea is from the HKC Wellness Solutions Toolkit).

If you are on a school organization group’s wellness council, find ways to role model and include these types of activity in your yearly plans.

Kindergarten children eating lunch

The only way to find out what kids think about school meal needs is to ask them! Whether you develop input through student-led “Nutrition Advisory Councils (NACs)” or with a series of activities, developing interaction can be highly successful.

Kids can help lead healthy change through peer nutrition education, promoting the school meal program and helping to create a healthier environment. The following activities help promote input:

  • Taste test new menu items. With a classroom teacher, arrange to give small samples and initiate a brief “Taste and Learn” discussion about how the item fits into school meal requirements.
  • Have kids brainstorm or respond to marketing ideas. For example, what do they think about promoting the cafeteria with a contest to give it a school name?
  • Ask about their ideas for healthy fundraising and how they can encourage school organizations to sponsor healthy fundraising options.
  • Ask students to develop a monthly bulletin board. Use it as an opportunity to have a health professional (registered dietitian) talk and provide resources about reliable vs. unreliable nutrition information. is a good “go to” for reliable information.
  • Conduct a “behind the scenes” school kitchen tour. Provide a demonstration on a topic of interest. For example, talk about why portion sizes matter in nutrition standards. Show the tools used to ensure that portion sizes are appropriate.


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!

I Teach. What’s your Superpower?“, said t-shirts worn by teachers who attended a Balance My Day™  workshop. The training helped teachers to pass superpowers on to the students they teach by empowering teachers to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity promotion into their math, science, P.E., health, art and literacy classes.

“The [training] was a hands-on and interactive experience. This will help better educate both parents and children within the school district.” Malika Romine, Shamokin Area Schools

One way Coal Township Elementary passes superpowers on to their students is by using signs throughout their building.

At the building’s entrance students are met with a bulletin board which emphasizes how school lunch supports healthy eating. Take-home copies of the lunch menu are provided in front of the bulletin board.

HKC Coal Twnshp PA bulletin boardAnother entryway bulletin board encourages physical activity by showing fun physical activity options and their benefits.


HKC Coal Twnshp PA bannersCeiling banners highlight different physical activities alongside academic pursuits.

logo_sna_smallAs National School Lunch Week (NSLW) runs from October 14th-18th this year, why not take advantage of the increased awareness and showcase your school foodservice successes?

It’s a perfect time to share some facts, like these:

  • The USDA just released data showing the majority – 80% – of schools are successfully meeting the new meal standards (
  • All of the 267 award-winning “Healthy Schools Program” schools are meeting or exceeding the updated school meal standards. Click here for success stories.
  • Healthy Kids Challenge schools, like Jackson Middle School, use school nutrition services to make a healthy impact. See their success story here.

And with all the attention that school meals have had recently, resources and toolkits for helping you showcase school foodservice are readily available!

  • Showcase School Foodservice – is our website section devoted to helping you showcase how you are champions for school nutrition services, and also providing new tools like Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition, to make it easy to teach staff and students simple nutrition messages.
  • School Lunch Across the USA toolkit from the School Nutrition Association – “It’s about celebrating the regional flavors, ingredients, and traditions from across the country. Every part of the country is known for different food—whether it’s New England chowder, southern black-eyed peas, Florida oranges, or southwestern salsa. School Lunch Across the USA allows you to celebrate the popular flavors in your own region, and across the country too!” Be sure to utilize the kids’ activities and the Backpack Brochure for Parents, too.
  • National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day is on Wednesday, October 16, 2013. A wonderful opportunity to invite parents to school lunch, where they can experience the tasty, healthy options being served to kids daily.

Whatever your plans are for NSLW, we’d love to hear your own success stories, and share them here, too!

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