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Highlight Healthy Foods — 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 choose those consistently.


Here's a quickstart guide to help you get started!

Why This Play?

Research and school reports that have been done in low-income middle schools tell us that when less nutritious snacks and à la carte foods and beverages are replaced with foods that are more nutrient-rich, students may select the more nutrient-rich foods.i ii


And, when nutrient-rich choices are better priced and promoted more, high school students have been shown to choose them more often — as snacks from vending machines as well as in the cafeteria.iii


i Alaimo, K., Oleksyk, S. C., Drzal, N. B., Golzynski, D. L., Lucarelli, J. F., Wen, Y., & Velie, E. M., Effects of changes in lunch-time competitive foods, nutrition practices, and nutrition policies on low-income middle-school children's diets. 2013. Childhood Obesity. 9(6):509-523. Accessed January 21, 2019.

ii Action for Healthy Kids. Healthy foods and healthy finances: how schools are making nutrition changes that make financial sense (see p. 7 of Michigan document). 2005. Accessed January 21, 2019.

iii French, S. A., Pricing effects on food choices. 2003. Journal of Nutrition. 133(3):841S-843S. Accessed January 21, 2019.

What to Do

There are three main steps to this Play. You will select an area of healthy eating to improve, implement your improvement plan (with short- and long-term goals), and then plan a way to keep it going. Read about what to do and then review Who Can Help? and Build Interest to get more information and help.


note  Note: In any Play where you plan to work with school meals or à la carte offerings, you must involve the school nutrition director and other professionals! If that’s not you, be sure to contact that team before you get started.


Step 1: Pick an area of healthy eating in your school (the cafeteria, vending areas, stores and/or sporting event concessions, etc.).


  • Conduct a survey of the à la carte foods or vending/concessions foods that students select over the course of a week.


    • Make a list of the foods offered, work with school nutrition professionals to rank them in terms of their nutrient quality and track how many of each item students select during a given time period.


    • Evaluate how well students do at selecting the most nutritious options.


    • Set a goal for improving their selections from now until the end of your Play implementation period.


  • Gather your team to create a “wish list” of ways they would like to make their school’s food options and areas more inviting to students and one through which they’ll make more nutritious choices.


  • 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.


  • Pick from the lists below in Step 2, either Cafeteria or Vending/Concession Areas.


Step 2: Implement your plan.


Cafeteria: Meet with your team and brainstorm ways to make the cafeteria more inviting and ways to highlight the more nutritious choices on the menu. Use your work from Step 1.


  • Divide the ideas into short-term goals (things you may be able to achieve quickly and without much work) and long-term goals (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. Here are some ideas for short- and long-term thinking.


    • Things you may be able to do right away


      • Add protein options like shredded cheese or hard-boiled eggs to your salad bar — or add a salad bar if you don’t have one yet!


      • Set up a smoothie station with nutrient-rich recipes and ingredients.


      • Create a quick access line in the cafeteria meal line — with nutritious, prepackaged foods that qualify as a full meal.


      • Run regular promotions highlighting more nutritious — or new — options on the menu (e.g., two-for-one apples; Tray of the Day [shoot “before” pics of a nutrient-rich tray of food and “after” pics once it’s eaten], etc.).


      • Try a dairy promotion on bone health using the resources in the Tools and Tips for this Play section. Highlight the benefits of dairy foods for long-term bone health and encourage the increased consumption of foods like low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.


      • Propose changes for à la carte food offerings in the cafeteria. Offer nutrient-rich foods that are easy to eat like yogurt, presliced fruits or small bowls of carrots.


      • See the marketing and promotion ideas in the Build Interest section for more ideas.


    • Things that may take longer


      • Plan a cafeteria makeover.


        • Consider 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.


        • Some tasks like moving around displays or repainting the cafeteria may need to be done outside of school hours. 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!


          note  Note: Be sure to work with your principal, custodial staff, and facilities manager as some projects like painting must be done by district personnel.


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:


note  Note: Don’t forget to visit the Funding and Outfitting Your Play section for information and ideas on what you might need to help with this Play.


Vending/Concession Areas: Meet with your team to discuss options on where to start. Use your work from Step 1.


  • Survey coaches, sports teams, before- or after-school clubs, and other groups that use the school during non-school hours.


    • 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?


    • Are all of your vending machines in compliance with the Smart Snacks in School standards?


  • Plan promotions and other strategies to improve your vending and concession options.


    • Work with your school nutrition professionals to meet with snack suppliers to discuss nutrient-rich options to offer in vending machines that students may like better than the current offerings. For example, consider adding part-skim string cheese, bagged baby carrots or low-fat yogurt.


    • Run a promotion wherein you offer better pricing for healthier options in the vending machines. Track usage leading up to and during the promotion to see what happens. Use the results to inform your pricing going forward.


    • Share! Check out and share this success story about one school district that made tremendous changes to its vending machine offerings, including nutritious snacks and nutrient-rich reimbursable meals.


       note  Note: There are funds available that can help you acquire the equipment and resources you need to implement these ideas.


Step 3: Keep it going.


Over time, keep thinking about new ways to get more students to make healthy choices.


Conduct the same survey you did at the beginning of the Play to see what improvements you have made. Use anecdotal feedback as well. You may want to do this again and again. Maybe it’s once a semester or once a year, but the goal is to continually make improvements over time. Think of it like this:


continuous improvement snacking plan

Who Can Help?

You are not in this alone. There are many people who can help make this Play a success. For this Play you will need the help of your school nutrition professionals. Meet with them first to talk about the goals of the Play and what seems the most “doable” in your school. Here’s a list of who can help and some specific ways they can do that.


Who Can Help

What They Can Do

School Nutrition Professionals

  • Help with strategy and nutritious food selection
  • Help plan cafeteria improvements
  • Help educate students about their nutrition


  • Approve plans, time lines and promotions
  • Engage with teachers, coaches and school nutrition staff to get their support
  • Encourage student participation

School Facilities Managers and Custodians

  • Provide information and advice about equipment locations
  • Help with any logistical considerations


  • Volunteer to help with painting and other tasks
  • Encourage student participation

Coaches and Club Advisors

  • Organize their teams or clubs to help with painting, reorganizing and promotions


  • Volunteer to help with improvements and promotions
  • Raise awareness and participate in polling and student engagement


  • Volunteer to help with cafeteria improvements

Community Businesses

  • Donate materials and/or food to help with the efforts (kiosks or carts, paint and other remodeling supplies, banners and signage, etc.)


note  Note: Be sure to work with the school nutrition professionals before starting this Play so that 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.

Go Nutrituos - Diane Kroll

Click to view
Credit: Fuel Up to Play 60

As with any game that’s worth playing and winning, you are bound to run into challenges. That's why getting help from others is so important. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals when everyone works together.

Build Interest

Organize some nutritious snack awareness activities during lunch periods.


  • Build an awareness campaign“Nutritious Food Is Only Nutritious if It’s Eaten!” Remind students to help protect our planet by not taking more than they plan to eat. This can reduce waste and help students to be sure they eat what they take.


  • 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.


    • After you’ve identified 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.


    • Don’t forget that it is important also to consider all the foods sold in school stores and vending machines, at school-sponsored events, and through fundraisers.


Simple is good. 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, table tents or permanent signs) in the cafeteria line. Make the signage colorful and use pictures of healthy foods.


  • 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 nutrient-rich, low-fat and fat-free milk.


  • 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.

Share Your Results

  • Share highlights and data from your Go Nutritious program:


    • Have students create posters showcasing your program and display them in high-traffic areas such as hallways, cafeterias and classrooms.


    • Distribute information and promote your cafeteria makeover progress during the morning announcements.


    • Get the word out on your school’s website or blog, in your school newsletter or 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!


    • Before or after you work on this Play, contact your local news station and see if a reporter would be interested in coming to your school to do a story on the Play and your team’s activities. You can learn about news production and inspire students at other schools at the same time.



Southside Middle School
click to view
Credit: New England Dairy & Food Council


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. Think of a creative way to display them to highlight each class’s habit of drinking milk!


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.


This section features ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about ideas for differentiating between older and younger students and ways to bring in the family connection.


Build student leadership opportunities. As much as possible, have students do the planning and run your programs.


For Older Students


  • Have students visit local businesses to ask for help with design ideas and 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.


  • Look into the possibility of students earning service learning hours.


For All Students


Work with your team to talk with coaches and club team sponsors about their fundraising activities.


  • Using the information you have about what snacks students like and will eat, discuss with your school’s nutrition professionals and club or team sponsors how to include more nutritious items into your school’s fundraising activities.


  • Remember that fundraisers don’t always have to involve food. Consider options like car washes and endurance activities (dance-a-thon, walking challenge, etc.), especially those that get kids active!


Put students in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable life lessons on how to plan and implement programs, and they’ll feel great about helping your school!


For Everyone


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 to highlight nutrient-rich eating options.


  • Volunteer at the food kiosks where snacks and meals are served outside the cafeteria.


  • Help secure funding or donations from local businesses and grant programs like Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60.


  • Provide input on which snack offerings could be improved.


  • Talk with local food suppliers — including farmers — about foods they may be able to provide.


  • Take turns staffing the à la carte line promoting nutrient-rich choices.


  • Volunteer to help rearrange vending machine or cafeteria displays.


  • Create signs and posters featuring nutritious food choices to display on the cafeteria line or around the school.



Bring in the PTA/PTO


Work with your school’s PTA or PTO to implement some of the ideas in the PTA Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. Meet with the parent-teacher organization and see if they will volunteer to take this on! Report back with notes and information about student choices.


Welcome Your Local Community


Consider opening your school’s cafeteria and facilities to the community. Parents, local chefs, grocery store 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.


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.


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!

Warm Up Activity Idea!

Not quite ready for the full Play? Try This.

Highlight Healthy Foods Warm Up

Pick (or get) one vending machine that you stock with only healthy choices. Highlight it in school announcements.

Hold taste tests of the snacks offered in the machine. Track the usage of the machine and use the results to build interest in the full Play.

Funding and Outfitting Your Play

Apply for Funding

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 re-purposed at other times of the day
  • Small wares such as pans and trays for the food bar or kiosk
  • Paint and painting supplies (brushes, tarps, tape, etc.) for the cafeteria
  • Bulletin boards to promote nutrient-rich options
  • A sound system over which teachers might do read-alouds or for students to listen to calm music as they eat
  • Portioners for dividing food portions easily and equally
  • Sectioners for slicing and wedging fruits and vegetables

Take a look at this Equipment Catalog for items that might help in a big way!

note  Note: State and local dairy councils may not fund everything on this list. Check with your local dairy council to find out what their priorities for funding are.

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! 

General Information

note  Note: Be sure to consult with your school's nutrition team when applying for a healthy eating grant!

More Funding Opportunities

  • Healthy Vending provides free delivery and upkeep of vending machines that stock fresh, healthful snacks.
  • Check your area's local grocery stores for information about their giving programs. Most large grocery stores have them.

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