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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 be the best version of themselves they can be!

Here's a checklist to get you started!

Go Nutritious_Why?

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Credit: Pinewood Elementary School


  • Research shows when nutrient-rich options were made more convenient and presented in more visually appealing ways in the cafeteria, estimated consumption increased.i Further, when students are involved in selecting and implementing behavioral economics strategies (strategies to influence behavior by making products more appealing, less expensive, etc.), some high schools have reported decreased food waste.ii

    Convenient and appealing cafeterias, kiosks, vending machines and food carts can encourage nutrient-rich eating habits, which can help students get fuel for their school dayiii and support them in developing nutritious eating habits.iv

    i Dunn, C., Shelnutt, K., Karavolias, J., House, L., Mathew, A.S. Better Bundled: Combined vegetable side and main dish items increase vegetable consumption among elementary and middle school students. 2016.Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Abstract P17, 48(7): S15.

    ii Bark, K., Byker-Shanks, C., Stenberg, M. et al. Innovative Strategies for Creating Smarter Lunchrooms in Montana High Schools [Abstract].2015.Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 47, Issue 4, S113. Accessed February 16, 2018.

    iii Breakfast for Learning. 2016. Food Research and Action Center. Accessed January 20, 2018.

    iv Creating Comfortable Cafeterias to Improve Child Nutrition. 2011. USDA Team Nutrition. Accessed January 20, 2018.

Huddle Up

Huddle Up

  • 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 to lend a hand. By working together, the members of your team and community can make a positive impact on the whole school!

    Go Nutrituos - Diane Kroll

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    Credit: Fuel Up to Play 60

    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.
    • Visit local businesses to ask for help with design ideas, supplies, and maybe even pitch in with the work! Lots of companies love to have their employees participate in community activities. It could help develop long-term relationships in the community and maybe even lead to students exploring different careers through these contacts.
Get Organized

Get Organized

  • Gather your team to create a “wish list” of ways you’d like to make your cafeteria a more appetizing 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. Consider ideas like:

    • Adding protein options, like shredded cheese or hard-boiled eggs, to your salad bar – or adding a salad bar if you don’t have one yet!
    • Setting up a smoothie station with nutrient-rich recipes and ingredients
    • Creating a quick access line in the cafeteria meals line—with prepackaged foods that qualify as a full meal

    There are funds available that can help you acquire the equipment you need to implement these ideas.

    Divide the ideas into short-term goals (i.e., things 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, funding or cooperation from a lot of people). After you set your priorities, develop a plan to make it happen — one step at a time.

Build Awareness

Build Awareness

  • 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 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 find accurate information and explain it in the right way. 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. Below are some simple strategies that may help encourage students to make smarter eating choices.

    • Create verbal prompts (e.g., simply ask someone if he or she wants a serving of fruit or milk) or visual prompts (e.g., posters, flyers or permanent signs) in the cafeteria line.
    • 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. Note: Does your school offer flavored milk? Check out this Flavored Milk FAQ that explains why doing so can be a good option!
    • Create displays, like posters, slide shows, or other ideas, for the nutritious choices available in the cafeteria and place them in easy-to-access locations on the lunch line.
Take Action

Take Action

  • 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 implement them one or two at a time and monitor the results. Include the school community in the discussion – find out what, if anything, students are noticing about the changes. Have lunchtime discussions to get their input.

    (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:

    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!

    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

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 a “grand opening” event 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 newsletter and student newspaper, and on social media! Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @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 reach out to 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. Highlighting your program will make it more relevant to the community as a whole, and possibly provide career opportunities for you and your teammates!



  • This section features 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.

    Scrimmage Time

    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!

    Everyone can:

    • 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.
    • 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.

    Welcome Your Local Community

    Consider opening your school’s cafeteria and facilities to the community. Parents, local chefs, grocery chain dietitians, and others can come together to brainstorm, share experiences, and provide resources to help make healthy eating a community-wide goal! Learn more here.

    Help Build the Whole Fuel Up to Play 60 Community

    Encourage students to log on to their Dashboard and report activity to achieve Level Three (30,000 Points) and be named a Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador! Having ambassadors at your school might help get more students involved!

    Homefield Advantage: Check out this resource and share it with parents so they can see what they can do to help at home and at school.


Warm Up!

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!

Funding and Outfitting Your Play

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

Additional Resources

Fuel Up to Play 60 provides this information as a courtesy. It does not imply an endorsement of the websites, organizations, or all information provided thereby. Fuel Up to Play 60 cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided through links. You will be subject to the destination site's privacy policy and terms of use when you leave this website.