Highlight Healthful Foods – Everywhere in School
Get students excited about school meals and snacks! 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 healthy foods and to encourage them to make nutritious choices!
Research shows that when healthier options are made more convenient and presented in more visually appealing ways, students tend to choose them.i ii
Turning the whole school nutrition environment (cafeteria, kiosks, vending machines and food carts) into a comfortable place with visually appealing foodiii encourages and reinforces healthy eating habits, which can help students be ready to learniv and support them in developing healthy habits.v
i Healthy convenience: nudging students towards healthier choices in the lunchroom. 2012. Oxford Journal of Public Health.
ii Move the Fruit: Putting Fruit in New Bowls and New Places Doubles Lunchroom Sales. 2011. Cornell University.
iv Breakfast for Learning. 2009. Food Research and Action Center.
v Creating Comfortable Cafeterias to Improve Child Nutrition. 2011. USDA Team Nutrition.
Huddle up with a dietitian and other school nutrition professionals (those who work in your cafeteria) 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; 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!
Gather your team to create a “wish list” of ways you’d like to make your cafeteria a healthier place. Need some inspiration? Look at these examples of cafeteria makeovers done by Fuel Up to Play 60 schools around 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
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 healthy eating program a success. Are there students on sports teams that need access to nutrient-rich snacks after the cafeteria has closed? Can you add more healthful 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 (things that 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, money or cooperation from a lot of people). Once you set your priorities, develop a plan for making it all 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 a dietitian and other nutrition professionals, identify areas of the cafeteria — such as the salad bar, the milk cooler, etc. — where decorations, signs and promotions can best highlight nutrient-rich choices. Remind students to keep our planet green and reduce food waste by not taking more than they are going to eat!
Once 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 healthful 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 a student’s knowledge of nutritious food facts are a great way to get people’s attention and make them interested 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 healthful 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 those 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 (simply ask someone if they want a serving of fruit or milk) or visual prompts (like posters, flyers or permanent signs) in the cafeteria line.
- Make access to more healthful food choices easier than access to less-healthy options. 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.
- Create visual displays of the nutritious choices available in the cafeteria and place them in easy-to-access locations on the lunch line.
Once your team of student and adult volunteers agrees to your plan, it’s time to take action! Organize volunteers and assign them tasks based on your priorities — small steps first, followed by actions that will move you closer to your long-term goals.
People probably won’t be able to work on some projects, like moving around displays or repainting the cafeteria, during regular 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 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
Once your plan is in motion, create promotional materials like posters and flyers to highlight the healthier 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.
Think long-term and sustainable. Take photos and video 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 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’ll have a whole new environment!
- 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 healthful eating options
- Work on signs that highlight the most 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!
Funding and Outfitting Your Play
What might help?
• Blenders for milk, yogurt, fruit and vegetable smoothies
• Portioners for dividing food portions easily and equally
• Sectioners for slicing and wedging fruits and vegetables
• Cooler barrels
• Refrigerated, glass-front cooler or vending machine for healthy 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 healthy options
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!
- Fresh and Healthy Vending provides free delivery and upkeep of vending machines that stock fresh, nutritious snacks.