The Movement

Do you struggle to come up with innovative, organized ideas to enhance the experience in your cafeterias? What about ways to increase participation in your school nutrition program? Fear not: the answers to these questions are finally here! The Smarter Lunchroom Movement is an advancement towards strategic innovation in the cafeteria that makes “the healthy choice the easy choice” for students. Backed by evidence-based procedure and the validation of public health professionals, this game plan for elevating the perception of your cafeteria has been successful in over 30,000 schools across the country.

In 2009, Cornell University professors Dr. David Just and Dr. Brian Wansink, studied how factors in social and physical environments influence students’ food selections in school cafeterias. After partnering with schools to field-test their theories, they went on the establish the B.E.N. Center (The Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs). The continuous research from the Center allows for consistent innovation to improve students’ nutritional decisions in school.

Proposed strategies of this movement are outlined in the ‘Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard’. This scorecard is broken down into eight categories, and contains 60 strategies that school districts across the nation reference for the betterment of their food service department. From self-serve spices and seasonings to students engaging in growing their own food, there are a variety of action items to encourage participation in school food programs.  In this new blog series, we’ll dive into the different methods covered on the Smarter Lunchroom Scorecard, and highlight school districts that are optimally utilizing these strategies in their operations. You may even pick up a few ideas to try in your own program!

As mentioned, the main strategic components are broken down on the “Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard”. Today, we’ll focus on the first two categories from the scorecard: ‘Focus On Fruit’ and ‘Vary The Vegetables’.

The first main segment is the instructions portion, which elaborates on the basic idea of reviewing the scorecard options, observing a lunch period, and then checking off the statements that apply. The amount of statements you have checked off for that category will determine the category subtotal. The higher your overall score after reviewing all eight categories, the ‘smarter’ your lunchroom is! A lower score is not necessarily a negative result, but just shows that you have room for improvement. First, let’s ‘Focus On Fruit’!

The Proof is in the Fruit!

Sometimes fruit in the cafeteria doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. One of the key factors in a Smarter Lunchroom is highlighting fruit in a way that makes it exciting and desirable. A perfect way for your fruit to grab the highly-sought-after attention of students is to display it in ‘attractive’ bowls or baskets, instead of a boring stainless steel pan. South Fork Elementary School in Idaho uses a ‘basket tower’ to uniquely show-off their fruit options for the day.

Another valuable method that is highlighted in this category is offering at least one fruit as a featured fruit-of-the-day. You can go all out on the display for this featured fruit and really draw the eyes of the students. Large colorful signs, informative messages on the benefits of that fruit, creative displays, and even unique carving techniques (for fruits like pineapple or watermelon) can really boost the consumption of your featured fruit. When considering this strategy, it is important to prepare diligently. For example, extensive preparation in making a sliced / peeled fruit display can go a long way in driving participation from your students.

Vary the Vegetables

The ‘Vary the Vegetables’ category of the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard might be one of the most difficult to address, simply because students inherently do not like vegetables. Approximately 90% of kids do not eat enough vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the concept behind a ‘smarter lunchroom’ is to help your child nutrition program minimize that percentage. A great way to increase participation for vegetable consumption is to pair veggies with a low-fat dip, such as ranch, hummus or salsa. Masking the sometimes bland favor of vegetables with delicious dips can reinvigorate your students’ desire to eat healthy.

Within this same category, the scorecard lists one of my favorite options for making your cafeteria ‘smarter’:

“A serving of vegetables is incorporated into an entrée item at least once a month (e.g. beef and broccoli bowl, spaghetti, black bean burrito).”

This is one of the easiest ways to make sure your students are not only getting their serving of vegetables, but also enjoying them. Featured below is a veggie filled lunch at Oyster River School District in New Hampshire.

A black bean and corn entrée is a simple way to incorporate a serving of vegetables in a delicious reimbursable lunch meal.  Using this method, along with the other checklist items on the scorecard, will encourage your students to consume more vegetables on a regular basis, and of course make your cafeteria ‘smarter’.

In the next blog for this series, we will expand on the strategies related to the next two categories on the scorecard: ‘Highlight The Salad’ and ‘Move More White Milk’. In the meantime, leave a comment if you utilize any of the checklist items listed above, and how these methods have increased participation in your school nutrition program.