It's All About Your Choices - Go Nutritious
Get students excited about school meals and snacks! Think about it this way — your school cafeteria might be the biggest, busiest “restaurant” in the area! Help the members of your school and community feel the excitement by giving your cafeteria and other places food is served a makeover. The goal is to give students access to more nutritious food options and to encourage them to make nutritious choices! Thanks to Cornell Center for Child Nutrition’s Smarter Lunchrooms Program for their help in developing this Play.
Research shows that when nutrient-rich options were made more convenient and presented in more visually appealing ways in the cafeteria, sales increased.i ii This increase in purchases can lead to an increase in the school meals’ bottom line (i.e., overall sales).iii
Convenient and appealing cafeterias, kiosks, vending machines and food carts can encourage nutrient-rich eating habits, which can help students provide fuel for their school dayiv and support them in developing nutritious eating habits.v
i Healthy convenience: nudging students towards healthier choices in the lunchroom. 2012. Oxford Journal of Public Health. Accessed 2/11/2017.
ii Move the Fruit: Putting Fruit in New Bowls and New Places Doubles Lunchroom Sales. 2011. Cornell University. Accessed 2/11/2017.
iii School Meal Programs Innovate to Improve Student Nutrition. 2016. Pew Charitable Trusts and Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. Accessed 2/11/2017.
iv Breakfast for Learning. 2016. Food Research and Action Center. Accessed 2/11/2017.
v Creating Comfortable Cafeterias to Improve Child Nutrition. 2011. USDA Team Nutrition. Accessed 2/11/2017.
Huddle up! Meet with school nutrition professionals (those who work in your cafeteria to nourish you) to figure out how to improve your cafeteria and find locations for carts, kiosks and vending machines outside the cafeteria. Remember to include the whole team: the school nurse, who can help with your plan; the principal to give your plan a thumbs up; your school’s facilities managers and custodians for any specific information you may need to get some of your projects implemented; PE teachers, classroom teachers and students to help with renovations, painting and promotions; and your school’s parent organization to get parent volunteers for your work. By working together, the members of your team and community can make a positive impact on the whole school!
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Students! Here are some things you can do to get things going!
- Have your team look at images of cafeteria makeovers and imagine what you might do in your school. Work individually and in teams to complete potential designs for the cafeteria or vending areas, school store and other places foods are available. Then talk about the positives of each to come up with a composite idea you can pursue as a team.
Gather your team to create a “wish list” of ways you’d like to make your cafeteria a more nutritious place.
Don’t forget to think about all the details, like paint, signs, window dressing, different types of seating options, the food line, displays and the types of carts or kiosks you have (or may need to add) to make your nutritious eating program a success. Are there students on sports teams who need access to nutrient-rich snacks after the cafeteria has closed? Can you add more nutrient-rich options to concession stands for school events? Conduct a survey of teachers and students to create a list of changes they would like to see. Divide the ideas into short-term goals (i.e., things that you may be able to achieve quickly and without much work) and long-term goals (i.e., projects that may be harder because they take more time, money or cooperation from a lot of people). After you set your priorities, develop a plan to make it happen — one step at a time.
Students and adults must work together to make this Play a success. This tip sheet on Who Can Help and How offers suggestions for how to get the adults in your community excited about the program.
Working with school nutrition professionals, identify areas of the cafeteria — such as the salad bar, the milk cooler and so on — where decorations, signs and promotions can best highlight nutrient-rich choices. Remind students to help protect our planet by not taking more than they are going to eat, which can help reduce food waste.
After you know the best areas to target, your team can create signs that provide clear and easy-to-understand information about the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods. The school nurse, health educators and nutrition professionals can help you choose the right information and the right way to explain it. Be sure to make the signs fun! Formats like trivia quizzes that test students’ knowledge of nutritious food facts are a great way to get people’s attention and spark their interest in trying new things.
Survey students to identify the areas they would like to see changed in the school nutrition program — and don’t forget to ask why. These explanations may reveal additional opportunities to provide nutritious food choices in the school.
Develop a plan for promoting more nutritious choices. You can get simple ideas that work from evidence-based strategies, such as the ones found in Cornell University's B.E.N. Center and Smarter Lunchrooms Ideas Sheet. There you can find tips on how to encourage students to make smarter eating choices. For example:
- Create verbal prompts (e.g., simply ask someone if they want a serving of fruit or milk) or visual prompts (e.g., posters, flyers or permanent signs) in the cafeteria line.vii
- Make access to more healthful food choices easier. This can be as simple and cost-free as moving around existing coolers or food-service displays. Another strategy is to store healthier options in newer or more attention-grabbing, displays — like a milk cooler decorated with fun and colorful signs that talk about the benefits of fresh, low-fat and fat-free milk.viii Note: Does your school offer flavored milk? Check out this Flavored Milk FAQ that explains why doing so can be a good option!
- Create visual displays or add attractive names for the nutritious choices available in the cafeteria and place them in easy-to-access locations on the lunch line.ix
vi The influence of a verbal prompt on school lunch fruit consumption: a pilot study. 2007. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Accessed March 11, 2017.
vii Andrew Hanks, David R. Just, Laura E. Smith, Brian Wansink. Healthy convenience: nudging students towards healthier choices in the lunchroom. 2012. Oxford Journal of Public Health. Accessed March 11, 2017.
viii Wansink, Brian, David Just, Collin Payne, and Matthew Klinger. Attractive Names Sustain Increased Vegetable Intake in Schools. [Research Brief] 2012. Accessed March 11, 2017.
See how you can help improve students’ overall food selections in your cafeteria. Use the results from your earlier student survey to set some targets. Then try this 4-Step Path to a Smarter Lunchroom from the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.
(Note: Be sure to work with the school nutrition team before starting this activity, so everyone is clear on the goals and sees it as a positive step for improving student nutrition rather than a “judgment” about the current environment.)
Use your team’s earlier design ideas as well as the results of the student survey to set some specific goals. Need some inspiration? Check out these examples of cafeteria makeovers, including some menu changes, done by Fuel Up to Play 60 schools across the country:
- Woodland’s Food Group Makeover
- Mason Elementary’s Cafeteria Makeover
- The New Greenwood Elementary Dining Hall
- Washington Elementary’s Cafeteria Makeover
- Café Antlers
Some tasks may need to be done outside of school hours, like moving around displays or repainting the cafeteria. Be prepared to work with the principal and members of your team to schedule makeover projects in the evenings or on weekends. Don’t worry — the extra effort will be worth it for everyone in your community!
Build student leadership opportunities. These links show great examples of schools that set long-term goals for their makeovers, involved students in the planning and even gave students opportunities to create their own public service videos:
Spread the Word
When your plan is in motion, create promotional materials like posters and flyers to highlight the more nutritious options available at your school. You might even ask your school’s art teachers to make this a special project!
Host “unveiling events” each time you complete a project on your list. You’ll want everyone to feel excited and proud about your school’s progress. Get the word out on your school’s website or blog, in your school eNewsletter (or newsletter) and on social media! Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; IG and TW: @FUTP60) and using #FuelGreatness!
Work with your school’s PTA or PTO to implement some of the ideas in the PTA Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. Meet with the parent organization and see if they will volunteer to take this on!
Think long term. Take photos and videos of the projects as you work on them and ask that these be posted on the school website. You may even try to recruit local newspapers or local news websites to highlight the good work you are doing. This kind of positive attention will encourage everyone to keep working hard and may generate long-term support for ongoing projects.
This section has ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about friendly competitions, ideas on how to include students and adults or ways to bring in the family connection.
Set up some friendly competitions. Have grades, classrooms or departments compete to come up with the best design for the cafeteria line service, overall cafeteria redesign, vending machine organization or other areas where food is served. After each contest, look for ways to implement the design. Soon you may have a whole new environment! To make a home–school connection, have students in each class collect caps from their milk jugs as they and their families finish them to highlight their class’s habit of drinking milk!
- Contribute ideas for areas in and outside the cafeteria that can be improved.
- Volunteer to help with some part of the makeover project — from painting to making signs.
- Create posters and flyers to highlight nutrient-rich eating options.
- Work on signs that highlight nutrient-rich options on the cafeteria menu.
- Volunteer at the food kiosks serving snacks and meals outside the cafeteria.
- Help secure funding or donations from local businesses and grant programs like Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60.
Homefield Advantage provides useful, practical ways for parents and family members to get involved in making this Play a success — in school and at home! Click here for a printable sheet that is ideal for students to take home to share!
This Play may help you meet the goals of the USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge!
Just getting started? Here are some things you can do without jumping right into the full Play. These can get you warmed up so you’re ready to tackle the full Play!
Start by selecting just one or two ideas from the Smarter Lunchrooms research ideas and test them yourself. For example: When Nudging in the Lunch Line Might be a Good Thing. Develop a plan to monitor students’ decision making and see where you might make even more differences. Then run the full Play!
Celebration K-8 School
Educational giant chalkboard in cafeteria
Students love to see the new art every week and they are learning the basics about healthy nutrition!Read More
Pinewood Elementary School
Pinewood Panthers Paint Their Cafeteria/Gym
Our goals were to include the school mascot, healthy eating, and physical activity all in one mural.Read More
Washington Elementary's Cafeteria Makeover
The cafeteria makeover was completed over the winter break so when student's returned after Christmas vacation, they came back to a bright, vibrant cafeteria that promoted the five food groups.Read More
MUNISING HIGH SCHOOL
Healthy VendingRead More
Funding and Outfitting Your PlayApply for Funding
What might help?
Things That Might Help
• Blenders for milk, yogurt, fruit and vegetable smoothies
• Cooler barrels
• Refrigerated, glass-front cooler or vending machine for nutrient-rich snacks
• A breakfast food bar or kiosk that can be repurposed at other times of the day
• Small wares such as pans and trays for the food bar or kiosk
• Paint and supplies for the cafeteria
• Bulletin boards to promote nutrient-rich options
• A sound system over which teachers might do read-alouds or students can listen to calm music as they eat
• Portioners for dividing food portions easily and equally
• Sectioners for slicing and wedging fruits and vegetables
Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60
Up to $4,000 per year is available to qualified K-12 schools enrolled in Fuel Up to Play 60 to kick-start healthy changes!
Note: It's a great idea to consult with your school's nutrition team when applying for a Healthy Eating grant! Many state and regional dairy councils require it.
- Fresh and Healthy Vending provides free delivery and upkeep of vending machines that stock fresh, nutritious snacks.