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The Smarter Lunchrooms Strategies

There are 60 strategies on the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard.  Here are the details on why and how to use each one! The more strategies you implement, the more improvements in revenue, participation, and healthy eating you will see.

Click the categories below to jump to the corresponding strategies:

Focus on Fruit


Fruit can be easily overlooked in the lunchroom.  Move it to the spotlight!  Here are some strategies that a Smarter Lunchroom uses to nudge students to take and eat more fruit:

South Fork Elementary School, Idaho
At least two kinds of fruit are offered.

Think beyond apples, bananas, and oranges.  Smarter Lunchrooms expose students to a wide variety of fruits including grapes, watermelon, mandarin oranges, peaches, berries, and kiwi. Make sure to offer at least two kinds each day. Fresh, frozen, dried, and canned all count!

Sliced or cut fruit is offered.

Students are more likely to eat fruit that is convenient and easy to eat.  When schools slice the fruit, students eat up to two-thirds more!  Slice that fruit and watch consumption soar.

A variety of mixed whole fruits are displayed in attractive bowls or baskets (instead of stainless steel pans).

Offering a beautiful variety of colorful fruit prompts students to take more.   Place whole fruits in colorful bowls or baskets to make them look more appetizing and double the amount of fruit students take!  Use bowls or baskets that contrast with the color of the fruit such as brightly colored ceramic or plastic mixing bowls, woven baskets, or tiered fruit stands. Mix different whole fruits together such as apples with oranges, bananas with pears, peaches with plums to emphasize variety.

South Fork Elementary School, Idaho
Fruit is offered in at least two locations on all service lines, one of which is right before each point of sale.

Place fruit in two different locations on the service line to increase the likelihood that students will see it, take it, and eat it. You can do this by repeating options or by offering two or more fruit options in different places.  Some possible locations to place fruit are: on a salad bar, in a cooler, on a snack rack, and of course, always beside the register!

At least one fruit is identified as the featured fruit-of-the-day and is labeled with a creative, descriptive name at the point of selection.

Make it easy for students to wade through all the choices by choosing one fruit to be the fruit-of-the-day.  Give it a fun, catchy name and put a sign next to it on the service line.  Featuring a fruit increases its visibility and makes it more attractive to students. Using a creative, descriptive name enhances taste expectations.  If it looks delicious and sounds delicious, it MUST BE delicious!  Smarter Lunchrooms offer orange squeezers, juicy grapes, slurpy watermelon, sweet tropical pineapples, sweet sugar berries, monkey phones (bananas), and snappy apples! Download the Smarter Lunchrooms Fruit-of-the Day sign here.

A fruit taste test is offered at least once a year.

Taste testing exposes kids to the smell, texture, and flavor of a new fruit. Kids need to be exposed to food several times before deciding if they like it. Taste testing fruits prior to offering them will create satisfied customers and help to save money by reducing waste.  Offer free fruit tastings at least once a year. Use the Smarter Lunchrooms taste test template to gather feedback.

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Vary the Vegetables


Did you know that 9 out of 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables?  A Smarter Lunchroom addresses this challenge by making it easy and convenient for kids to take and eat vegetables.  Schools meals are the perfect opportunity to expose kids to new and exciting vegetables that they may not get at home.

At least two kinds of vegetables are offered. 

Kids are more likely to select and consume a vegetable when they have the power to choose from different options.  More options will also increase the chances that each student can find at least one vegetable  appealing. Each additional fruit or vegetable offered increases the number of children eating a fruit or vegetable.  Make the vegetable choices impossible to miss! Use brightly colored trays, tongs, linens, or labels to add interest and visual appeal.

Vegetables are offered on all service lines. 

Convenience counts! Students are far more likely to take a vegetable if it is within arm’s reach than if they have to travel to a second serving line or station to get it. Make room for vegetables in each service line. Be creative! If counter space is limited, consider making room in each cooler for veggie cups or bagged raw veggies (ex.: cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers, etc.). Snack windows without coolers can be accommodated by storing chilled veggies in portable cooler bags. Offer vegetables at every service area so students can easily grab them and go.

Both hot and cold vegetables are offered. 

When it comes to kids’ tastes, one size does not fit all. Some students may like their vegetables fresh and crunchy, while others might prefer them roasted or seasoned. Providing choices that appeal to all tastes can increase sales and student satisfaction and even prompt students to try new things. Offer hot vegetables alongside entrees, and provide cut, raw vegetables on the salad bar or along the service line. Another prime location for portioned cut vegetables is in a rack or cooler by the point of sale.

When cut, raw vegetables, are offered, they are paired with a low-fat dip such as ranch, hummus, or salsa. 

Raw vegetables have many qualities that students find appealing: they are easy to hold and eat, fun to dip, crunchy, cold, colorful, and sweet. Dips can also offset some stronger flavors, such as bitterness in a cut pepper, which may be intimidating for younger children. Pre-portion dips and serve alongside the raw, cut vegetables. Add a colorful sign showing the items together, along with a fun, catchy slogan such as “Dip in! Veggie crunchers + hummus!” or “Cucumber scoops <3 salsa!”  Put hummus or dip in the bottom of a small cup and stand up veggie sticks in it.

A veggie filled lunch at Oyster River School District, New Hampshire.
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). 

Most kids take the daily entrée, so smuggle some veggies into that entrée and watch them disappear into little kid bellies! Think Beef and Broccoli Rice Bowl, Mouthwatering Chili, Sizzlin’ Stir-fry, or Cheesey Bean and Quesadillas. Try adding mushrooms, peppers, zucchini or onions into pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, and chili.  

Self-serve spices and seasonings are available for students to add flavor to vegetables. 
Billerca Public Schools, Massachusetts

Let kids spice up lunch! A flavor station with herbs and spices allows students to personalize their meal and offers a way to experiment with different flavors.  Spice or flavor stations make school lunch fun! Flavor stations can be as simple as offering spices at the end of the serving line or can go as far as providing a designated flavor station table in the cafeteria. Keep your spices and flavors calorie and sodium free.   Consider including lemon juice or slices, parsley flakes, garlic powder, cinnamon, chives, vinegar, and hot sauces.  Go the extra mile and add labels with suggestions for what items they taste good on: cinnamon on sweet potatoes or applesauce, oregano on cooked carrot medley, garlic powder on green beans etc.

At least one vegetable is identified as the featured vegetable-of-the-day and is labeled with a creative, descriptive name at the point of selection.

 Featuring a vegetable increases its visibility and makes it more attractive to students. Using a creative, descriptive name enhances taste expectations.  If it looks delicious and sounds delicious, it MUST BE delicious!  Prime students’ appetites by choosing one vegetable to be the vegetable-of-the-day.  Give it a fun, catchy name and put a sign next to it on the service line. Try offering cool-as-a-cucumber slices, carrot crunchers, juicy cherry tomatoes, power peas, sweetie pie sweet potatoes, crunchy carrots, and protein-rich chickpeas. Download Smarter Lunchrooms Veggie-of-the-Day signs here. 

A vegetable taste test is offered at least once a year. 

Kids may be hesitant to select a vegetable if they’ve never tried it, but taste testing allows them to take a bite without the commitment of getting a whole serving. Even if they have tried it in the past, repeated exposure can help them decide whether they like it or not. Adding something new to the menu? Make an event of it to increase your customer base and save money by reducing waste. Offer free vegetable tastings at least once a year, and use the Smarter Lunchrooms template to gather feedback.

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Highlight the Salad


The research is clear - salad bars in schools increase children’s consumption and are a great option for meeting the meal pattern requirements, especially the vegetable subgroups.  Salad bars can be successful at all grade levels in rural, urban, and suburban districts.  Financial support for salad bars can be obtained through or through partnerships with school-based or community stakeholders.  Details on how to plan and implement an effective salad bar can be found in The Lunch Box Salad Bars Guide at  If a salad bar is not an option, pre-packaged salads are a great second choice.

Pre-packaged salads or a salad bar is available to all students. 

Did you know? Students eat more vegetables when offered premade salads or a self-serve salad bar. Salads feature colorful, cold, crunchy raw vegetables that appeal to kids; some also include healthy seeds, dried fruit, or other add-ons. Salads can be offered either on a freestanding cart or on the regular service line. Service line salad bars can be made with a simple collection of cold chopped vegetables and tongs; use signage and a sample plated salad to advertise the salad bar and demonstrate appropriate portion size.

Pre-packaged salads or a salad bar is in a high-traffic area. 

Convenience counts! Pre-packaged salads are neat and easy to grab-and-go. Place pre packaged salads and salad bars in high-traffic, high-visibility areas in the normal flow of lunch traffic, turned so students can easily see the food items. Double-check the line of sight for smaller students, adding signage to help them see what is available, as needed. Offer pre-packaged salads in all service areas; use portable cooler bags if fixed/plug-in coolers are not available.  Placing a salad bar in a high-traffic area means students do not have to make an extra trip for vegetables. In a study conducted by the Smarter Lunchrooms team, simply moving the salad bar into a higher traffic area tripled salad sales!

Self-serve salad bar tongs, scoops, and containers are larger for vegetables and smaller for croutons, dressing, and other non-produce items. 

Big spoons = big servings! While salad bars are a great way to provide students with fresh fruits and vegetables, the fat and calories from salad dressing and other “extras” add up quickly. Setting out utensils that are the right size for each item makes it easy for students to select healthy amounts of food without a second thought. Use larger tongs and spoons for fresh produce to boost consumption and smaller tongs and scoops for less-healthy “extras” to minimize over-serving.  Place appropriately-sized utensils on the service line, as usual. You can also add suggestion signs as needed: “Please use tongs!” or “Take what you want! Eat what you take!”

Corvina-Valley Unified School District, California.
Pre-packaged salads or salad bar choices are labeled with creative, descriptive names and displayed next to each choice. 

What’s the only thing better than a salad bar? A FUN, colorful salad bar! Using creative names is an effective attention grabber and places healthy options in the spotlight. If it looks delicious and sounds delicious, it MUST be delicious!  

When it comes to naming salad bar items, think outside the box! Are you featuring foods that are regional or seasonal? How could you incorporate your school colors or mascot into the names? Give items fun, catchy names and post labels near each item on the service line or bar. Make the salad bar fun with turbo tomatoes, sweet corn, immune-boosting cucumbers, celery swords, x-ray vision carrots, and power peas.

Download Smarter Lunchrooms salad bar signs and labels here. 

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Move More White Milk


Milk contains important nutrients for growing kids.  Both white and flavored milk are good options available at school.  Some communities express concern about the sugar in flavored milk.  Rather than taking away flavored milk, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement believes in preserving freedom of choice and recommends adjusting the way milk is displayed in order to nudge more students to select white milk.  Make sure white milk is available in all coolers and is promoted with signs.

Milk cases/coolers are kept full throughout meal service. 

Fully-stocked displays make milk easier to find and pick up, especially for shorter students.  As the lunch period progresses, keep an eye on the coolers and refill when it appears that levels are getting low.

White milk is offered in all beverage coolers. 

White milk in every cooler increases the likelihood that students will see it, take it, and drink it! Prominently featuring white milk in every location promotes it as the normal, default beverage of choice. Friendly reminder: add white milk to the juice and water beverage coolers.

White milk is organized and represents at least 1/3 of all milk in each designated milk cooler. 

Think strength in numbers! The most highly represented choice sends the message that it is also the most normal choice, so make sure white milk represents at least 1/3 of all milk in each beverage cooler.  An organized display is neater and more calming.  Take care when loading the crates or cartons.

White milk is displayed in front of other beverages in all coolers. 

When it comes to food selection, students usually opt for what they see first. If white milk is more visible and convenient than other beverages, students will take it! Place milk in the front or most easily-accessible section of every beverage cooler.

1% or non-fat white milk is identified as the featured milk and is labeled with a creative, descriptive name. 

Using a creative, descriptive name raises taste expectations and students’ interest in white milk. Use fun, catchy names or appealing nutritional information (“Contains Calcium for strong bones!”) and post labels (with pictures for developing readers) on coolers.  Try these fun labels for milk: Ice Cold White Milk, Moo Milk, Real Cold Cow’s Milk, Dairy Fresh White Milk, Mighty Milk, Snowy White Milk, Bone-protecting White Milk, 1% Creamy White Milk, and 1% White Moo Milk.

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Boost Reimbursable Meals


Serving a full reimbursable meal means that students are getting a complete, balanced, and nutritious meal.  It also means that the school nutrition program is getting the maximum reimbursement leading to greater program revenue.  Make it easy and natural for students to select the reimbursable meal by having clear signage with fun descriptive language and by using gentle prompting.

Chef Marlen, LeGore School in El Monte City School District, California
Cafeteria staff politely prompt students who do not have a full reimbursable meal to select a fruit or vegetable.

Use suggestive selling to encourage students to “complete their meal” with a fruit or vegetable. Be polite and cheerful, make eye contact, smile, and be patient, especially with younger students, shy students, and those with developing language skills.

Word choice counts! For example, say “Would you like carrots or an apple?” rather than “Do you want a fruit?” or “You have to take a vegetable!” It helps when the prompted items are within arm’s reach (convenience is key!). Keep grab-and-go fruits and veggies by the register.

One entrée is identified as the featured entrée-of-the-day, is labeled with a creative name next to the point of selection, and is the first entrée offered.  

Take note!  There are three things to do to achieve this Smarter Lunchroom strategy. Start by choosing the entree you most want to promote, then, give it a creative name to spark interest, and finally, make it the first entree in the service line. Research shows that students take the first entrée significantly more than the third entrée in line. When the healthy choice is the highlighted choice, students will be more willing to buy it and eat it.  Try out some of these creative names for common entree items: Fish Sticks of the Sea, Kickin’ Chicken Nuggets, Hot Cheesy Pizza, Rockin’ Broccoli Rice Bowl, or New Orleans Chicken with Rice. Download the Smarter Lunchroom meal of the day sign here. 

Creative, descriptive names are used for featured items on the monthly menu.

What would you rather eat: Rice with Vegetables or Zesty Fiesta Rice Bowl?  If students are making the choice between packing a lunch versus buying at school, presenting meals in an exciting, descriptive way will encourage them to leave the lunchbox at home and opt for school lunch.  Brainstorm creative, descriptive names for featured entrees. Think outside the box—how could you relate entrée names to the school mascot, school colors, favorite teacher, or community? How about Vikings’ Veggie-loaded Pizza, Bulldogs’ Big Bad Bean Burrito or Mrs. Harwood’s (favorite teacher) Famous Baked Beans?

One reimbursable meal is identified as the featured combo meal and is labeled with a creative name.

Make choices easy. Even though several items are offered, pick the ones that go together best and make it a combo meal! Feature it as one complete reimbursable meal and add special branding to make it more visible and attractive to students.  Place a sign advertising all components of the combo meal next to the selected entrée on the service line.  Give the meal a special name such as the Brain Boosting Meal, the Athlete’s Meal, or the Focus Feast. Download the Smarter Lunchroom meal-of-the-day sign here. 

The combo meal of the day or featured entrée-of-the-day is displayed on a sample tray or photograph.

Complete meals are more appealing than individual items, especially when the sides are thoughtfully paired with entrees. Also, plating clears up confusion about what is included in the meal and is easier for developing language users than worded menus. It also saves time! Students can point and say, “I want that!”

Plate the reimbursable meal of the day and prop it so it is easily visible to students in the line (be aware of line-of-sight for younger students). Direct lunchroom staff to point it out to students for the first week or two, so students get accustomed to looking for it. Secondary option: take color photographs instead and display in clear photo displays.

Reimbursable Meal Signage, Culver City Unified School District, California

A (reimbursable) combo meal is offered as a grab-and-go meal.

Time is precious!  Many school lunch periods are short – often as little as 20 minutes, including transition time. Students want to spend as much of the time as possible eating or socializing with their friends. Leverage speed and convenience by offering a grab-and-go reimbursable meal.  Pre-pack reimbursable meals in quick-service grab-and-go bags. Brand them with a name, logo, or sticker for easy identification and fun. Offer them in a speed line for faster service. This is a great way to repurpose a snack window or cart!

Culver City Unified School District, California
Signs show students how to make a reimbursable meal on any service line (e.g., a sign that says “Add a milk, fruit and carrots to your pizza for the Power Pizza Meal Deal!”).

In many schools, students can create a reimbursable meal with a wide variety of entrees.  Make it crystal clear what students need to do to make a complete meal.  Use signage to nudge students to make a reimbursable meal out of any entrée choice.  

Students can pre-order lunch in the morning or day before.

Students order healthier foods when they pre-order because they are in a rational, more health-conscious “cold state,” compared to when they order in a rushed, hungry, impulsive “hot state” in the service line. This also reduces waste because lunchroom staff can prepare exact amounts of foods.  Pre-ordering can be done in many ways: online (at home, a day/week/month at a time) or on paper or via smart board in the morning classroom.

Students must use cash to purchase á là carte snack items if available.

Cash is more valuable to students than credit on a swipe card; they are more willing to spend their parents’ money (via credit swipe) than their own cash. Leverage this to nudge students to increase purchases of healthier foods (with their swipe cards) over less-healthy snacks (with cash).  Allow credit purchases of target foods: reimbursable meals, milk, fruit, and vegetables. Establish a cash-only policy for a la carte snacks.

Students have to ask a food service worker to select á là carte snack items if available.

Time is money! When less healthy snacks cost time or effort, a student is more likely to default to a healthier snack such as a piece of fruit that they can simply grab and go without waiting around for it. Move displays of cookies and chips behind the counter and out of students’ line of sight and/or reach. They can still have the foods, but they must ask first. Cover ice cream cooler windows so they are opaque.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Students are offered a taste test of a new entrée at least once a year.*

Kids tend to stick to what they already know they like, so they may be hesitant to branch out and try new menu items. Taste testing lets them experience the smell, texture, and flavor of new foods, which will create satisfied customers and help save money by reducing waste. Offer free entree tastings at least once a year and use the Smarter Lunchrooms template below to gather feedback.

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Lunchroom Atmosphere


The lunchroom offers students a place to socialize, fill up, and rest their active minds.  The school lunchroom can be an industrial, institutional feeding place, or it can be friendly, clean, bright, and fun. Use Smarter Lunchrooms strategies to make sure the lunchroom is a place where kids want to be.

Cafeteria staff smile and greet students upon entering the service line and throughout meal service.

Happy staff = happy students! Smiles are contagious, lead to a better experience for both servers and students, and can generate purchases.  Our research shows that students who perceive the food service staff as “always smiling” are more likely to purchase school lunch than those who perceive the staff as “never smiling.”  Train and encourage service staff to use a positive customer service approach, which includes greeting each student with a smile, using a friendly voice, and making eye contact.

Attractive, healthful food posters are displayed in dining and service areas.

Suggestive selling works! Hang appealing, age-appropriate signage in high-traffic areas where students can read them from 5+ feet away. Choose colorful, neat images and words that encourage students to try, select, and enjoy the healthy food options that make up a reimbursable meal.

Free or inexpensive signs are available online through federal and nonprofit organizations. Posters are also easy to make. Consider collaborating with classroom teachers and/or school clubs or organizations to generate lunchroom-themed artwork by students. They can be artists and their art appeals to their peers!

A menu board with today’s featured meal options with creative names is readable from 5 feet away when approaching the service area.

We tend to judge books by their covers! Notice the effort coffee shops and sandwich restaurants put into their artistic, colorful, thoughtful wall menus. They do this because it enhances taste expectations and boosts sales. The menu board is the school lunch’s “cover.” A stylish, neat, colorful, appealing menu board communicates that the food is also appealing.

Place a clean menu board (a whiteboard works well) at every location where students line up. Write the menu options in clear, attractive handwriting large enough to be easily seen from 5 feet away. Highlight feature items (veggie and fruit of the day, special entrees, named reimbursable meals such as the “Bobcat Meal” or “Athlete’s Special”, etc.) with colorful ink colors, icons or borders. If staff members feel uneasy about writing out the menu, ask a reliable student with artistic talent to volunteer to write it (ask a trusted teacher or guidance counselor for recommendation). Lunchrooms TVs or screens are also the perfect place to highlight the features of the day.

The lunchroom is branded and decorated in a way that reflects the student body.

Make your lunchroom a place where students want to be! Branding the lunchroom to reflect the student body makes students feel like it’s their space and fosters a sense of community within the school.  Use school colors on signage and hang student artwork.  Give bulletin board space to the student council or other school groups.  Post school awards and recognitions where everyone can see them.

Cleaning supplies or broken/unused equipment are not visible during meal service.

Nobody wants to eat next to a dirty, dusty fan or a wet and stinky mop bucket. An attractive, neat, and orderly eating environment enhances students’ eating experience and shows them they are valued.  A Smarter Lunchroom is a clean, clutter-free cafeteria that is welcoming and fun.  When a piece of equipment is no longer in use, move it out of the cafeteria and into a storage closet or unused room.  If you can’t move it out of the cafeteria, consider other options to hide the items such as a moveable bulletin board or wall.

All lights in the dining and meal service areas work and are turned on.

Research shows that we make healthier foods choices in well lit spaces. Be sure to turn on all lights, including in the display coolers, before students enter the service and dining area.  Contact the school facilities manager as soon as you notice the need for a light bulb repair.

Compost, recycling and trash cans are at least 5 feet away from dining students.

What do students see when dining at their tables? A Smarter Lunchroom makes sure that it’s not the trash cans!  Make sure all disposal stations are far enough from tables that students cannot see inside or smell the contents.

There is a clear traffic pattern. Signs, floor decals, or rope lines are used when appropriate.

An orderly traffic pattern is an important quality of a stress-free lunchroom and highlights that the cafeteria is a safe, controlled environment.  Use signs, floor decals, or rope lines to make it crystal clear where to enter and exit the lines.

Trash cans are emptied when full.

Let’s face it: overflowing trash cans are not appetizing! Keeping the dining environment attractive, clean, and orderly is a simple way to show students they are valued and that they are in a clean, inviting space. This is especially true as the day progresses; students in the last lunch period should be greeted with the same beautiful, inviting, and clean environment as their peers in the first lunch period.  Ask lunchroom aides, staff or custodial employees to keep an eye out for full cans and empty them as needed.

A menu board with tomorrow’s featured meal with creative names is readable from 5 feet away in the service or dining area.

Advertising the next day’s meal excites students about what is to come! Not all students check the school lunch menu, so this is an easy way to increase awareness and boost sales. Write the creative name of tomorrow’s featured meal in large, legible font, and use color and images to make it “pop.” This can be done on a whiteboard or even a lunchroom TV if your school has one.

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Student Involvement

Smarter Lunchroom Students at Culver City Unified School District, CA

The cafeteria is the school’s largest classroom!  Getting students involved in the lunchroom fuels student pride and excitement as well as provides important insights into student’s preferences and needs.

Student artwork is displayed in the service area or dining space.

Kids love seeing their artwork on the walls! Student artwork on display shows students they are welcome.  Donate cafeteria wall space or a lunchroom bulletin board to art or media teachers to fill with student work.  Ask students to design and create posters to decorate the lunchroom.  

Students, teachers, or administrators announce today’s menu in daily announcements.

Morning announcements offer an opportunity to prime student appetites.  Enhance taste expectations by letting the whole school know that Asian Beef and Broccoli Bowl, Rainbow Crunch Salad, Snappy Apples, and Moo Juice are on the menu today.  Make it a special job for a student to go to the office and read the day’s menu over the announcements every morning.  If a student isn’t able to do it, ask the front office staff or a cafeteria staff member to take on this fun role.

Students are involved in the development of creative and descriptive names for menu items.

Students know what their peers like! Inviting their input into naming foods will result in names which genuinely attract  their peers. Seeing their ideas come to life will give them a sense of pride and connection to the school meal program.  Students come up with names that adults never would imagine!  Fun student created names have included Monkey Phones (Bananas), Sauna Carrots (Steamed Carrots), and the Cheesy Squeezy Burrito.  

There are numerous fun and easy ways to entice students to come up with fun names.  During lunch, offer students a sample of a new entree and ask them to put ideas for what to call it into a hat so you can choose one later.  Or, go to a classroom with a list of the vegetables that are offered and ask students to brainstorm names on the spot.  Even better if you can offer them some carrots or pepper slices to munch on while thinking.   

Students have the opportunity to volunteer in the lunchroom.

Get students involved in the in’s and out’s of the school meals program!  Invite students to lead taste tests, create posters and signs, decorate the serving line, help younger students with lunch line selection, or to keep an eye on the recycling and compost stations. Reach out to student leaders and ask if they would be interested in volunteering during their lunch period or study hall. For older students, offer to sign off on their participation as volunteer or community service hours.

Students are involved in the creation of artwork or marketing materials to promote menu items.

Students know how to market to students! Invite art and photography teachers to incorporate food and lunchroom themes into lessons, then choose student works to exhibit in the lunchroom. You can also reach out to clubs or start a school-wide lunchroom art competition by advertising it on the daily announcements and in school newsletters.

Students provide feedback (informal – ‘raise your hand if you like...’ or formal - focus groups, surveys) to inform menu development.

You won’t know until you ask! Genuine feedback is very helpful in figuring out what aspects of school lunch service students like and what they could do without.  It will save you time and money if you can find out ahead of time that students want Lo Mein instead of Shepherd's Pie.  Keep it light and easy by going into the dining space and asking “hey, raise your hand if you liked the creamy alfredo pasta sauce better than the turbo tomato pasta sauce”.  Up the ante by hosting a regular menu development feedback group after school.  Invite parents to attend too.  Bring samples of potential new foods.

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School Community Involvement


A school nutrition program needs and deserves the support of the whole school community.  School staff may base their impression of school lunch on their experiences 15 years ago.  Let’s get them in the cafeteria to see that school lunch has changed!   School staff can contribute to students feeling like school meals are delicious, nourishing, and a great choice for growing, active kids.  

A monthly menu is posted in the main office.

The main office is the brain center of the school building. If a parent is going to a school, they are sure to be stopping by the front office.  Place an attention-grabbing, up-to-date menu in an easily-seen, high-traffic area to keep students and staff up-to-date on what’s being served.  Posting the menu in the office to avoid the dreaded scenario where a parent asks ‘what’s for lunch today’ and the office staff say ‘oh, the menu is online’.  That’s a missed marketing opportunity.  Make life easy: place a stack of printed menus on the counter for parents to take on their way out the door.

A menu board with creative, descriptive names for today’s featured meal options is located in the main office.

A monthly menu is small and hard to read. Big, bold words grab attention! While displaying the monthly menu in the office is a great start, the words may be difficult to read from far away.  Creating an additional space to list the highlighted meal of the day generates excitement without requiring visitors to step up close to read the menu.  Use designated wall space, a menu board, or bulletin board in the front lobby or main office to highlight today’s featured meal choices.

A monthly menu is provided to students, families, teachers, and administrators.

Some students may be hesitant to buy school lunch if they aren’t sure that they’ll like what’s being served. Making a menu available allows them to plan ahead and get excited about meals they know they enjoy or think they might want to try.  The monthly menu can be distributed to individuals in paper form or through email, as well as posted on the school website.

Information about the benefits of school meals is provided to teachers and administration at least annually.

Students are very perceptive of their teachers’ opinions. Unfortunately, many school staff members may have inaccurate or negative views of school food. Correct these misconceptions! Let faculty and staff know about all of the benefits of school food to help them start to see school food in a positive light and encourage them to promote healthy options to students.

Keep teachers and administrators informed about the benefits of school meals at least annually.  Present information at a yearly meeting, such as during back-to-school planning week or on a professional work day or provide a handout on the nutrition standards of school meals. Bring attention to the health benefits of school meals and the positive educational outcomes that come from full bellies.

Nutrition education is incorporated into the school day.

When students learn how to make healthy choices and understand the positive outcomes of healthy eating, they will be well equipped to make healthy choices inside and out of the school building. Nutrition education can be incorporated into almost any classroom. Health, physical education, and science courses seem like the most obvious settings, but math classes can mix in serving size and calorie calculations and social studies classes can feature variations of diet patterns and recipes in different cultures. Newsletters, bulletin boards, and gardening all count towards nutrition education.

Students are engaged in growing food (for example, gardening, seed planting, farm tours, etc.).

To increase student vegetable consumption in schools, serve vegetables in the cafeteria that were grown in the school garden.  If kids grow vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them!  The gold standard is to have a school garden where kids can plant, weed, water and taste, but there are alternatives for schools when having a garden isn’t an option.  Some schools have small table sized greenhouses or planters.  Planting beans in soil in plastic cups by the window also gives a hands-on experience!  Trips to a local farm or books about gardening and farming can take the place of hands-on growing if necessary.

Elementary schools provide recess before lunch.

Schools who have placed recess before lunch have noticed that children eat more and behave better when they get the wiggles out before lunch. After running around, kids are hungry. Providing recess before school lunch is especially helpful because it removes the incentive for children to rush through or skip eating in order to play sooner.  Recess before lunch is an excellent strategy to reduce food waste.

The school participates in one or more food promotion programs such as Chefs Move to Schools, Fuel Up to Play 60, Share our Strength, etc. 

Numerous programs want to help support school nutrition programs, healthy eating, and increased physical activity for youth. Garner all the support you can get!  Many programs provide free posters and materials, grants, creative ideas, and ongoing support. Keep your program current, trendy, and full of best practices by staying connected to multiple programs that support your cause.

The school has a partnership with Farm to School, local business(es), or a farmer's market.

Local businesses and nonprofits, including those associated with agribusiness, can be valuable allies in your work with lunchrooms. These leaders and experts can partner with you on many types of projects: nutrition education (field trips, guest speakers, and school gardens), highlighting local and seasonal foods (taste tests and Harvest of the Month), sponsoring lunchroom changes (providing a salad bar, utensils, signage, mural, branding, or incentives for staff), and making introductions to other potential allies in the community. These leaders know that a strong school and student body benefit the whole community, their civic mindedness and financial support can magnify the impact of your work in school lunchrooms.

Smarter Lunchrooms strategies are included in the Local School Wellness Policy.

All districts that participate in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program are required to have a Local School Wellness Policy that guides the district’s efforts to promote student wellness.  Writing Smarter Lunchrooms strategies into the Wellness Policy helps ensure that all students have access to a healthy school nutrition environment that makes the healthiest food the most convenient foods.  Find sample language for your Wellness Policy at the Smarter Lunchrooms webpage.

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