The cafeteria is where food is sold, purchased, and consumed at school. How food is displayed, prepared and marketed, how the tables, chairs and food are arranged, and the overall cleanliness and look of the cafeteria can impact what students chose to eat. At an age where students are forming their dietary preferences and habits, the cafeteria has the ability to promote healthy or unhealthy food habits, therefore it is important to make sure that the healthy choice is always the easy choice.
Assessing the cafeteria will provide insight into whether it’s inviting and if the layout promotes and encourages healthy behaviors.
How to Assess: The Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment will provide a detailed look at your school food environment, whether healthy food items are promoted, and how welcoming the cafeteria is.
Consider These Strategies:
Try these researched lunchroom techniques to promote healthy behaviors in your cafeteria:
- Offer attractively displayed fruits and vegetables at the start of the service line.
- Place white milk before chocolate milk in the milk cooler.
- Make water readily accessible to all students. Try providing fruit and vegetable-infused water to encourage water consumption.
- Place a variety of fruit at the point of check out.
- Ensure the food service team is trained to politely prompt students to select and consume the daily vegetable option.
- Give fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods fun names, i.e., “power peas” and “dinosaur broccoli trees”
- Ensure the daily fruit and vegetable option is bundled in the grab and go meals.
Create a welcoming cafeteria environment so students enjoy spending their meal times in the cafeteria.
- Paint murals in the cafeteria that illustrate healthy behaviors – kids playing sports, eating fruits and vegetables, and/or cooking with friends. See if there is a local artist, parent, or art teacher that would like to lead the mural efforts.
- Collaborate with the art teachers to highlight students’ artwork in the cafeteria.
- Fundraise to replace outdated tables, seating, and other cafeteria fixtures.
- Put on monthly cafeteria activities that allow students to try new foods and provide feedback on what they would like to see in the school meals. Try a smoothie station, around the world fruit and vegetable stand, meat alternative tastings, and other fun and healthy activities.
The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement: Provides techniques that nudge students towards engaging in healthy eating habits.
Action for Healthy Kids Cafeteria Activities: Provides strategies improving the cafeteria to help to enhance students’ mealtime experience so they can eat better.