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.


webBanner1National School Breakfast Week (NSBW) is March 2-6, 2015. Celebrate NSBW 2015 with the theme of “Make the Grade with School Breakfast.” It highlights how eating a nutritious breakfast helps students achieve success in the classroom and beyond. Get started planning your celebration with SNA’s (School Nutrition Association) free tools and resources.

Recognizing NSBW in your school district or in your cafeteria helps you:

  • Increase student participation for your program
  • Spread the message to parents that you’re serving healthy and tasty breakfast at school
  • Earn media coverage from local papers, blogs, and TV stations
  • Connect with teachers and administrators at your school or in your district to spread the word that school meals are healthy

To enhance your NSBW promotions and education, try adding our MyPlate teaching cards to your resources!

  • A pack of 50 sets front/back color coded MyPlate cards. Seven cards are secured by a corner grommet, allowing them to fan-out. English and Spanish versions are available.
  • Each card provides a simple Challenge message, tips, and healthy choice examples for one of the USDA MyPlate food groups plus one card for physical activity.
  • A great tool for educators and a smart give away for families!
  • Numerous teaching and learning opportunities. In addition to NSBW, use as a classroom MyPlate teaching tool, with our Explore MyPlate™ event, and even to enhance the Balance My Day Curriculum™.

Share your NSBW promotions and successes with us on Facebook and Twitter!

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!

Platt County Pre K class (WinCE)

Celebrate School Lunch Superhero Day on Friday, May 3rd! The day aims to showcase the ways in which school nutrition professionals make a difference for every child who comes through the cafeteria. It also kicks off the School Nutrition Association’s week long School Nutrition Employee Week, May 6-10, 2013.

Here are a few creative, yet simple, ways to join in the celebration:

  1. Find simple tips such as the following on SNA’s website: “Announce School Nutrition Employee Week (May 6-10, 2013) on the signs in front of the schools. Make sure that the week is featured on the schools’ calendars and in newsletters. Don’t forget to include the celebration on your menus for the week.”
  2. Submit your School Lunch Superhero pictures to be featured on the School Meals That Rock Facebook Page. They have already begun showcasing some Superhero Employees and School Districts, and will continue throughout next week. Inspiring!
  3. Hand out these free Certificates of Appreciation for School Nutrition Employee Week from LearningZoneXpress. Simply download and print!
  4. Simply offer your school nutrition employees a sincere “Thank you!”

Red and purple fruits and veggies

Whether your school is participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge or not, chances are the kids are being introduced to many more fruits and veggies and whole grain servings than they have been used to in the past. So what’s the trick to getting them to EAT those healthy choices? After all, it’s not nutrition unless they eat it…

  1. Set up the cafeteria for success. Success in helping them choose the healthier options that is. Have you heard of the Lunch Line Redesign? Or Smarter Lunchrooms Movement? Check them out for ideas.
  2. Spark interest with color. A rainbow of colors make any meal more appealing, and especially for kids. But don’t stop with the menu options. Add color to the walls using posters and bulletin boards, even repainting the cafeteria to make it more inviting.
  3. Rename the fruits and vegetables. Cooked carrots. Steamed broccoli. Sound appealing? Giving them descriptive names has been shown to help kids get interested in taking them AND eating them! You don’t even have to change how you prep them, just change the name. Examples include: “X-ray vision carrots”, and “Tiny Tasty Tree Tops.”
  4. Ask the kids for input! When you ask their opinion on healthy options, it gives them ownership in the changes, and they are more likely to eat what they helped create. Start a youth advisory council if you haven’t already, or create a simple contest for naming the cafeteria or a holiday menu. Taste tests are a proven winner!
  5. Promote, promote, promote. Think like a marketing expert. “Advertise” your healthy options on bright bulletin boards, or with new, colorful name cards. Change the placement of the veggies and fruit on the lunch line so they are offered first rather than last. Switch out stainless steel bowls for colorful options; even stacking a bowl of fruit on top of an upside down bowl gives visual appeal.

Specific action ideas that go along with these suggestions can be found in Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition™, a Healthy Kids Challenge resource. Action ideas are designed to increase interest in healthy eating and help meet the HealthierUS School Challenge criteria. Content includes MyPlate, trivia, bulletin boards, food science experiments to link with curriculum standards, menu planning tips, and fun ideas for youth advisory councils.

For even more on creating interest in healthy school meals, see the following:
HealthierUS School Challenge
School Meals That Rock
Tray Talk
School Nutrition Association

Happy National School Lunch Week! This is part 2 in a series of posts we’re doing on celebrating the positive school lunch changes in schools across the country.

Before we celebrate today, I want to challenge you to DO something in honor of National School Lunch Week: Go to a school (your kids’ school, a school in your neighborhood, your old school, any school) to eat lunch and Tweet about the healthy food. Let’s get our schools and our kids on board with eating the new, healthy school meals so they are ready to learn and play! When you Tweet, be sure to add the hashtag #schoolfoodsrule so everyone can follow the conversation.

Now on with the celebration…

C – Chopped. School Nutrition Professionals Compete on the Food Network Show Chopped. See how much these ladies love the kids they serve!

E – Eat with your eyes on the Facebook page of the Child Nutrition Program at Provo School District in Utah.

L – Leading the lunch lines: Middle school students are fruit and veggie ambassadors at Slater Jr. High School in Pawtucket, RI.

E – Enjoy a little taste of Tray Talk.

B – Breaking down barriers: In Akron, Ohio the school lunches are “ahead of the curve.”

R – Rock solid: School Meals that Rock.

A – Adults are cooking up positive role modeling: Check out the food coaching program at Hopkins Public Schools in Minnesota.

T – Take a Deeper Look Into School Lunch.

E – Eat your heart out in Oregon: School lunches: Thoughts and tips from a school chef, a farm to school program director, a dietitian, a vegan blogger and a sixth-grader

Remember to say thank you to your school foodservice directors and staff this week for all their hard work and dedication. Hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s National School Lunch week.

What IS right with school nutrition? An awful lot, actually. I wish you could have sat in on the Choose MyPlate with School Nutrition session at the School Nutrition Association conference in Denver.

One thing that is right may surprise you. It’s not the obvious – healthier foods being served, and EATEN, in schools across the country even before the new guidelines were established. It’s length of service in school food service compared to any other foodservice job…Others (restaurant, fast food, corner store, hospital, etc.) have high turnover rates; not so with school food service.

It is not uncommon to have staff celebrate 20, 30, or MORE years working in school meal programs and that was the case with those I had the privilege to share time with this week at the annual conference in Denver. What is the sticking point? I asked that in my sessions, over 200 attendees in one and over 100 in another and the resounding answers were KIDS and TEAMWORK.

As I shared thoughts, challenges, ideas, and humor, the nod of heads were many and the visits after the sessions heartwarming.

  • These folks are ready for the changes that MyPlate, new meal pattern guidelines and the HealthierUS School Challenge program have brought to them.
  • They are ready to step up and step out and provide leadership in their schools for healthier school environments.
  • They need the tools and the support to make a healthy difference for the kids they serve so well.

I only hope I gave them a few tools and from my heart, the support to step up and help make healthy living a habit!

Your ideas are so simple, so real, so right for promoting school meals, MyPlate and participating in the HealthierUS School Challenge Program. This was one of the best sessions I’ve attended here!” SFS Director, Florida

I needed to hear this! I know my team can make a difference but no one at our school sees that. You have given me tools to step forward and not wait any more, thank you!” SFS Director, Minnesota

Want more on celebrating what’s right in school nutrition? Try these links:

School Nutrition Association Attendees Hear, See, and Do… Choose MyPlate!

School Meals That Rock

Tray Talk

Innovators in School Nutrition – July 2012

School Nutrition Association

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