School Caferteria Line

Preschools and daycare centers can help build a foundation for healthy eating and physical activity choices. In the most recent WOWS Newsletter, we shared the three actions that will help make a difference that lasts for a lifetime:

  1. Plan fun, hands-on learning activities
  2. Model and repeat the healthy message… play, taste and learn with kids
  3. Share the message with parents and caregivers

A 4th category of actions are “nudges.” We’ve used this term in our columns before. It is a word made popular by Cornell University’s Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.

Nudges are like the things retail marketers use to encourage consumers to buy. Good examples are retail store end caps or products placed by the checkout lanes. When it comes to kids’ places, consider these successful “nudges”:

  • A 2016 study reported in Pediatrics found that in school cafeterias with vinyl banners depicting vegetable superhero characters, more young children took vegetables from the salad bar.
  • Studies have also shown an increase in the selection of healthier foods when they are at eye level. In one example, preschoolers took cartons of lower fat milk when they were easier to reach than the higher fat choice.
  • Encouraging students to take fruits and veggies as they go through the line increases selections.
  • Giving fun menu names to fruits and veggies “nudges” healthier choices. So the next time you post a menu, have fun with creative names, like “Crunch a Bunch Salad,” “Rocket Carrots” or “To-My-Toes Tomatoes.” Better yet, help kids come up with silly names!

Make a Healthy Difference, Learn – Model – Share – and Nudge


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!

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

Many kids complain about not having enough time to eat school lunch. When our organization works tirelessly to help kids “Eat, Move and Enjoy Healthy Balance,” it’s hard to read articles like the USA Today article, “Cutting short lunch time in school may lead to obesity.”

While the article brings attention to a very important issue, let’s focus less on adding to the list of what “causes” obesity, and more on finding solutions.

I wish I had THE solution to not enough time for school lunch, but the fact is, there isn’t just one.  It depends on the school, and just like people, there are many factors that determine how they allot their time. Some solution starters might look like this:

1. Find the win/win situation for the school and the students. Kids who are well-nourished can and do perform better academically. Share research (and there is plenty) showing the link between healthy eating and academics. You simply can’t eat healthily if you’re only given 5-10 minutes to eat lunch.

2. Focus on the small things that can be changed. To start, recognize that scheduling all grades eating in one cafeteria every day is not simple. What if you look at how many students are in the cafeteria is during each lunch period? is it full every time, or just some of the time and not at all at other times? Can certain grade levels be combined? How do other schools fit in 30 min. or more for lunch time?

3. Consider recess before lunch. What? Yes. Before lunch. It’s successful in many schools across the nation, and the benefits are beyond what you’d expect for less plate waste, smoother lunch periods and better focus in the afternoon.

What ideas can you share?

SNA’s State of School Nutrition Report 2011:

The Relationship Between the Length of the Lunch Period and Nutrient Consumption in the Elementary School Lunch Setting

Potatoes are one of the most used staple foods.

Image via Wikipedia

…just serve them with a helping of nutrition education!

Potatoes aren’t the only starchy vegetables in question. What about corn, peas, and lima beans? No matter what rules are set, we need to remember that all vegetables can be prepared in healthier and tasty ways, and kids need to have participation and ownership in any change to increase their acceptance of it.

I asked some of our other RD nutrition experts to weigh in:

“Potatoes SHOULD be part of a balanced diet. They are not high in fat or sugar.  Excluding them sends the message that they are “bad” (good food vs. bad food).  Prepare and serve them with less fat and added sugar. Focus on eating a variety of veggies rather than excluding a veggie.”

“Let’s not categorize foods as good or bad. Instead, eliminate (or limit) frying as a cooking method and provide a variety of vegetable choices in the school cafeteria for healthy balance.”

“Potatoes, like any food, can be part of a healthy diet…eat them in moderation, and fry them only once in awhile. They are a great source of vitamin C.  The idea that they should be banned isn’t teaching children how to include them in a healthy lifestyle.”

Your thoughts?

Proposal to Cut Back on Potatoes in Schools Causes a Food Fight

In Case You Missed It

May 16, 2011

A sampling of social media and news that caught our attention. We encourage you take it to the next level – by taking action on something you read here – to “help kids eat, move, and enjoy healthy balance.” Together we can make a healthy difference for kids.

1. We use scarves all the time, so this is a great resource to have. Download Head Start Body Start’s newest Healthy Homes, Scarf Play, from the HSBS website for a fun activity idea and family- friendly nutrition message.

2. What’s your take on this new study?
In Texas schools, a picture’s worth 1,000 calories SAN ANTONIO– Smile, schoolchildren. You’re on calorie camera…

3. Salt and sodium get a lot of press these days. Here’s an article just released in the Lancet and we have to agree “It is dangerous to jump to conclusions on the basis of single studies and ignore the totality of evidence.” Salt and cardiovascular disease mortality

4. New Video: How to Solve the Childhood Obesity Epidemic SPARK has developed a video that focuses on one of the solutions – getting kids moving in school- and explains why Quality Physical Education can play such an important role in ending this epidemic. Click Here to watch the video.

5. Success! We love it when we read good news! Small, simple steps can make a big difference, right?

How About a $5 Pledge for Better Health? Think Farmers Markets
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gail Rosenblum, 05/09/2011
For up to $5 a day in SNAP purchases, shoppers got a $5 match in “Market Bucks” vouchers… Increased awareness of being able to spend SNAP dollars doubled the number of SNAP customers heading to the Midtown Market at2225 E. Lake St. But Market Bucks made it an even more welcoming attraction that kept them coming back. In fact, the dollar amount of purchases more than tripled, from about $3,000 in SNAP sales in 2009 to $9,638 in 2010.

6. You haven’t missed this one yet, it’s tomorrow:  FRAC’s webinar on “Strategies for Success:  Making the Most of the New School Water and Milk Requirements” Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 12:00 – 1 p.m. EST Click here to register.

School lunches have a challenge ahead! Did you see the headline in the Chicago Tribune?

You can lead kids to broccoli, but you can’t make them eat,0,6830768.story

Here’s the bottom line: Healthy foods don’t make healthier kids unless the kids eat them and kids won’t eat them unless they taste good.

Just like in changing whole-district wellness policies, you’ve got to create buy-in, even with kids. Give them some control in these inevitable changes to their lunch-time favorites. Kids love to give their opinions, right?

  • Let them taste-test new menu items before putting them on the menu.
  • Give them a voice by voting for their favorite fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Have them create posters and collages in the classroom to support an upcoming change to the menu.
  • Hold a contest to name the new menu items.
  • Build cooking skills by allowing them to help when trying new recipes.

By getting kids involved in the process, they begin to feel ownership for the changes ahead. The foods become more appealing just because they helped choose or taste them in the first place.

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