Be Smart- Less Waste and More Nutrition in Cafeteria (1)

What if kids independently made the healthy choices for their own nutrition while at school?
We can dream… right?

It turns out, healthier nutrition comes with choice and some smart cafeteria feng shui.
If there’s anything the advent of social media and the viral hashtags full of food puns have taught us about the food industry, it’s that a meal’s initial appeal is sometimes all up to good lighting and angles.

Unsurprisingly, our children have bought into the idea that these two things really do matter.

In the context of our school cafeterias, does that mean if we just polish our apples to look a little prettier and shinier that students would actually pick them up and eat them?

Well… not exactly- but try changing the lighting and placing instead.

The world of “Smart Lunchrooms”, launched by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs in conjunction with the USDA, has given nutrition professionals a lot of insight on student habits.

These studies show that just changing the lighting on fruits away from florescent lights, along with changing the bowls they’re kept in, increases the sale of these items by 102%.

That staggering number isn’t an isolated one either. Dr. Brian Wansick, Ph.D. and Dr. David R. Just, Ph.D, also suggest that the entire school consumption of a child can be altered by how the products are displayed and where they’re placed along the cafeteria line.

Although highlighting the correct foods for our children to eat is important, an extra nudge like simply suggesting students take fruit by a cafeteria professional increases their chances of them eating it by as much as 70%.

And don’t forget to make tantalizing sweets a little harder to access by closing the lid on ice cream freezers, you’ll find students choosing this as a dessert option drop by about 15%.

Check out some more ideas to help improve your cafeteria’s Feng Shui and flow.

Striking The Balance In Student Nutrition

Many lunch programs that have made substantial changes in the choices given to students tend to face some backlash in areas like program participation, and even their ability to secure childrens’ nutrition. So does that mean we will be forever stuck forcing children to eat their vegetables?

food is only nutritious if it’s eaten

Too many school cafeterias are experiencing the strain of offering students healthy meals: mainly, a lack of participation within the school lunch program.

When healthy options are introduced, it seems like many students just opt out of the system- choosing to go out to eat, or bringing their own meals and snacks from home.

Most times, such options prove to be worse for their nutrition than anything made available to them at school. It gets worse, when healthy options are presented to students, many will pick them up out of compulsion, and then throw them away.

the pitfalls many schools fall into when making healthy choices accessible to students in schools is removing choice

Within schools that gave children little to no option in entree or sides in an effort to move towards healthier options, kids were more likely to be driven away from the prospect of eating at schools.

When transitioning into “smarter” options, the word “option” becomes key.

When choice is taken away, it leads to students engaging less with their dinning experience and throwing away food.

Conversely, when children are given a choice between multiple kinds of vegetables or fruits- they’re more likely to actually eat them, and then carry these self-made choices and habits outside of school.

Reversing The Waste Trend

Optimizing the choices you provide students with will always be based off of your capabilities, so remember that tracking your inventory and smart meal planning in accordance to it will make a difference.

In conjunction with this, taking into consideration the foods students actually eat versus pick up can be tricky, so try polling students at meal times to see which foods they actually enjoyed.

Hopefully this offered some insight to make the next meals in your cafeterias really picture worthy!