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Smarter Lunchrooms Annual Symposium

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2019 Smarter Lunchrooms symposium will be oct 10-12!

Exciting news!

Our 2019 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium will be held at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY on October 10-12. By moving this year's program to the fall, we hope to make our program accessible to participants whose schedule precluded travel in May. Plus, returning participants can enjoy Ithaca's famed fall colors and activities! We hope old friends and new colleagues alike will be able to join us for this exciting and empowering program.

Program Overview:

Participants will become fully certified Smarter Lunchrooms Movement Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs). They will have the knowledge and confidence to partner with schools to use behavioral economics strategies to encourage kids to select, eat, and enjoy healthy food choices in schools without eliminating choice. This year's symposium will also include research connections, a resources fair, a site visit to a working lunchroom, and strong focus on real-world application. We will share information for leveraging Smarter Lunchrooms and Smarter Mealtimes tools and strategies in school lunchrooms, early childhood education settings, and other scenarios such as breakfast programs, summer feeding programs, food pantries, and meals outside of the lunchroom environment. Possible special topics include reducing waste, school gardens, technology, and best practices for working with specific groups. There will be time for members of SLM state collaborative groups to meet as well as whole group networking opportunities.

Registration and hotel information will be posted in May, so stay tuned to our social media channels for updates! If you have questions or would like to share information or resources through our resources fair and library, please contact us.

We hope you can join us!

Highlights of last year's symposium can be found below. 

The 2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium was a great success!

Click here to view our Presenters!

Over 100 participants and guest speakers joined us in gorgeous Ithaca, NY on the renowned Cornell University campus to learn about current Smarter Lunchrooms research and become certified Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs). The mix of theory and implementation, academics and practitioners, experienced veterans and enthusiastic newcomers made for wonderful discussions and sharing of ideas. Over the next weeks and months, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office team will be sharing highlights from the symposium on to help our partners and colleagues across the country benefit from this great program!

2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium

            This year we added a new day to our usual program in which we featured research and resources. Five researchers presented recent and ongoing studies and their implications for the future. Of particular interest to many of the participants was Dr. David Just’s heartwarming intervention in Nigeria promoting a healthful sweet potato to school children, as well as Dr. Ginny Mermel and Dr. Katie Bark’s work establishing collaborative Student Nutrition Advisory Councils (SNACs) involving diverse school-based and foodservice-based stakeholder groups. The research presentations were followed by a brainstorming session and panel about future research ideas related to Smarter Lunchrooms techniques in various settings. Lastly, there was a poster session featuring even more related studies. This fascinating work will be shared under our Research page this summer.

        Thursday also included a very popular free resources fair of approximately 60 resources from the SLM National Office and our partners and colleagues. These diverse resources were organized into the following categories: SLM techniques, signage, social media, professional development, nutritional education, reducing food waste, Smarter Mealtimes/early childhood education, and the Healthy Food Choices Community of Practice. Participants enjoyed watching Michigan Team Nutrition’s engaging, high-impact YouTube videos, paging through the photo-packed Strategies Showcase from University of Illinois Extension educator Jessica Gadomski, and admiring the high-impact signage and communication materials from partners all over the country. These were just a few of the dozens of great ideas to use, adapt, or be inspired by! The resource creators generously allowed us to share their work online, so stay tuned as we build our online library. The Flavor Station materials, Smarter Lunchrooms Signage, and Smarter Mealtimes resources (English and Spanish) are ready now, and materials from our guests will be posted under our Resources from Pioneers page.

2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium - Free Resources Fair

          The next two days of the symposium were devoted to Technical Assistance Provider training, much of which was led by our colleagues from Smarter Lunchrooms state collaborative groups from across the country! The newly certified professionals are now equipped to partner with schools and collaboratively evaluate how well lunchrooms promote healthy foods. Furthermore, they can then plan, implement, and demonstrate the impact of Smarter Lunchrooms strategies to help nudge kids to select, eat, and enjoy healthy foods in school. 

        Certified TAPs now have exclusive access to official Smarter Lunchrooms training materials (updated and scripted slide presentations, tools, and activities) for sharing information about Smarter Lunchrooms to other stakeholders. These will be re-released in June 2018. It was also revealed that the SLM National Office is moving toward helping Smarter Lunchrooms state collaborative groups lead full TAP certification training themselves! For more information on TAP trainings or forming a Smarter Lunchrooms collaborative group in your state, contact us at

           And that wasn’t all! Woven into the TAP training were sessions on how to integrate Smarter Lunchrooms into preexisting state and federal initiatives, form a state collaborative, use organizational and social media to support lunchroom interventions, boost breakfast participation, maintain communication, write a successful grant application, and implement Smarter Mealtimes. This great “bonus” content will be shared on a number of places on our site, depending on topic – so stay tuned to the Lunchroom Buzz for updates!

Flavor Station as Featured at the 2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium

           Lastly, members took a guided Web Waltz through to locate and bookmark key resources and professional development opportunities for themselves and their colleagues back at home. Participants were very interested in new releases such as the free 2-hour online course Creating Smarter Lunchrooms and free 1-hour courses from the Community of Practice. They also learned they can stay current on all of the new content by following our Lunchroom Buzz blog, Facebook group, Twitter account, and newsletter. Many of the participants were excited to evaluate their schools using the Online Scorecard Tracker and see their schools appear on our Smarter Lunchrooms Movement Map

It was an amazing event and we are so honored to have been joined by so many esteemed participants and guests presenters. This was our biggest and best symposium to date! Thank you to everyone who made this possible. Good luck to everyone during their summer and SY 2018-2019. We hope you are able to use the information and tools you learned about (in person or online over this summer) and we hope to see you all next year!

Presenters from the Cornell B.E.N. Center


David Just, PhD

(Ph.D. 2001 and MS 1999 in Agricultural and Resource Economics - University of California, Berkeley)

David is the Susan Eckert Lynch Professor of Science and Business, Co-Founder of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, and Co-Director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at Cornell University.

His work on behavioral economics and the school lunch program has shown how low/no-cost solutions can lead school children to make healthier choices without reducing overall availability of choices or breaking the school budget. His research has won wide recognition, winning numerous awards for quality of research from both the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and the European Association of Agricultural Economists, and was cited by Discover Magazine as one of the top science stories of 2006. He is also the author of the award-winning book Introduction to Behavioral Economics (2013).

Gnel Gabrielyan, PhD

(PhD in Economics, Washington State University)

Gnel is a research associate at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. His research consists of papers in consumer and behavioral economics, agricultural economics and agribusiness. He has worked on studies in three key areas: technology adoption, consumer behavior, and policy implications. His technology adoption research experience includes analyzing the impact of Food Service Director and school-related characteristics on adoption of innovative school lunchroom programs. Consumer behavior studies have included analyzing the impact of information on consumer behavior in a real-world setting and during experiments, analyzing the impact of lunchroom changes on students’ selection and consumption of healthy items in school cafeterias, analyzing consumers’ WTP for sensory attributes in beer and the extrinsic factors affecting their choice of beer. The research on policy implications includes reviewing and testing the challenges and possibilities of various policy implications on consumer behavior change and population health in the U.S. and globally.

Guest Researchers

Janani Thapa, PhD

Dr. Janani Thapa is an Assistant Professor in the Health Policy and Management Department of the College of Public Health in the University of Georgia. 


Janani is working on developing, implementing, and evaluating community-based behavioral intervention programs to promote healthy living. She is also interested in the policy impacts on obesity status. She is developing research to evaluate the impact of policies such as state wide obesity prevention policies and safety net policies on obesity status and family food choice decisions. 

Recently she was involved in an extramurally funded project focusing on childhood obesity prevention that used behavioral economics to promote healthy food choice decisions in elementary school children. She is building on this research in Georgia schools and involving food suppliers in her efforts to curb childhood obesity. In her future work, potential topics include: 1) identifying distinct healthy behaviors within a homogenous group for replication, and 2) applying the tools of behavioral economics in preventing risky health behaviors.

Janani earned her graduate degree (M.Sc.Ag.Econ., 2007) from Nepal, followed by a Master’s in Public Administration (Internal Development) in 2011 from Cornell University, NY and a Doctorate in Agricultural and Applied Economics from Texas Tech University, TX in 2014. Her doctoral dissertation was on the impact evaluation of a public-private partnership for cancer (caused by obesity) prevention on health awareness, cancer risk knowledge, and food choice decisions under Dr. Conrad Lyford. Prior to coming to UGA, she served as the president of Agricultural Economics Graduate Student Association in her department at Texas Tech University and she was a Cornell Institute of Public Affairs fellow at the Cornell University. Her current responsibilities at UGA are teaching health and obesity policy and related courses in the Department of Health Policy and Management and expanding research on obesity prevention.


Jaclyn Kropp, PhD

Dr. Jaclyn Kropp is an associate professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida. She earned her Ph.D. in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University in 2008. Jaclyn joined the University of Florida in August of 2012 and has a 60% teaching and 40% research appointment. Prior to joining the University of Florida, she was a tenure-track assistant professor at Clemson University. At the University of Florida, Jaclyn teaches a variety of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, including Advanced Agribusiness Management, Agricultural Policy, Agricultural Finance, and International Agricultural Trade. Her research focuses on issues related to agricultural policy and agricultural finance, including the impacts of agricultural support programs on farm-level production decisions and how government support program participation affects access to credit, however, the majority of her research focuses on the link between food assistance program participation and child nutrition. Jaclyn’s expertise includes program evaluation and using behavioral economic nudges to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in schools.

She has worked in school lunchrooms for six years and the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement for five years.

Virginia (Ginny) Mermel, PhD, CNS (Certified Human Nutrition Specialist)


Dr. Ginny Mermel is the School Wellness Coach and Evaluation Assistant for Montana Team Nutrition for South Central Montana.  Montana Team Nutrition’s office is located at Montana State University in the Department of Health and Human Development.  This enables staff to easily partner with faculty and other key state partners like Montana State University Extension and the Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity Program. 

She first became involved in school nutrition in 2006, when the Billings Public School District asked her to volunteer as the first Chairperson of the School Health Advisory Committee. Prior to that, she worked on obesity including pediatric obesity interventions.

Alleviating child hunger is of particular concern to her. She is instrumental in administering BackPack Meals Programs at eight Title 1 schools and nine Teen Pantries in Billings, feeding over 520 kids each week. 

To learn more about this initiative, click here to read the article! 

She has worked with school lunchrooms for eleven years and has been involved with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement for five years. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, School Nutrition Dietary Practice Group (8 years) and Billings Action for Healthy Kids, School Health Advisory Council.


Guest Presenters from State Collaboratives

Nick Drzal, MPH, RDN

Director, Michigan Team Nutrition

Nick Drzal has a BA in Biology from Hope College (1994), an MPH in Human Nutrition (1998) and a RDN certification (2000) from the University Of Michigan School of Public Health. Since 2003, he has worked for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), first overseeing nutrition education and school health initiatives. Since 2008, he has directed Michigan’s Team Nutrition program, which is a USDA initiative designed to promote healthier school meals, nutrition education, and physical activity. His favorite aspect of the Smarter Lunchrooms is the possibility of creating healthier school and home environments by using behavioral economic strategies (“nudging”). He’s looking forward to learning where other behavioral economic researchers are headed, as well as better understanding which strategies stem from what types of research (randomized control trial, cohort, focus group, quasi-experimental, etc.).

Involved with Smarter Lunchrooms: 6 years

Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Provider (TAP): 3 years

Worked with school lunchrooms: 6 years

Member of Healthy Food Choices in Schools work group in the Community of Practice


Facebook Page:

Jessica Gadomski, MS, RDN, LDN

Extension Educator - Illinois Nutrition Education Programs: SNAP - Education, University of Illinois Extension

Jessica Gadomski is SNAP-Education Educator with University of Illinois Extension’s Illinois Nutrition Education Programs and a registered and licensed dietitian, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall County. She assists schools in creating healthy environments through policy, systems and environmental changes. Current projects include Smarter Lunchrooms, Breakfast after the Bell, providing training to assist staff in meeting professional standards for school nutrition programs, and assisting schools in navigating their wellness policy implementation. She enjoys the versatility in implementing Smarter Lunchrooms strategies and looks forward to networking with others and exploring innovative resources during the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium.

Involved with Smarter Lunchrooms: 2 years

Leader of Smarter Lunchrooms – Illinois: 1 year

Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Provider (TAP): 4 years

Worked with school lunchrooms: 5 years

Member of Healthy Food Choices in Schools Community of Practice

Websites: &

Kelly Kunkel, MS, MCHES

Extension Educator, Health and Nutrition, University of Minnesota Extension

Kelly Kunkel is an Extension Educator in Health and Nutrition, Family Development, based out of the Mankato, Minnesota Regional Office. Much of her work has been dedicated to changing the food environment to improve food access and choice for low income and youth audiences, through programming for food shelves, overindulgence education, school food service training and Smarter Lunchrooms. She has worked for the University of Minnesota Extension since 1994.

Kunkel’s favorite aspect of Smarter Lunchrooms in Minnesota is working with the Ambassadors to implement Smarter Lunchrooms strategies. She looks forward to learning more about Smarter Lunchrooms in other states.

Involved with Smarter Lunchrooms: 2 years

Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Provider (TAP): 4 years

Worked with school lunchrooms: 10 years

Member of Diabetes, Families, Food and Fitness, Food Systems Impact Collaborative Community of Practice


Mary Ann Mills, MPH

School Wellness Program Manager, University of California CalFresh Nutrition Education Program

MaryAnn Mills is the School Wellness Program Manager for the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in California. In her role, she oversees the delivery of SLM through local extension programs and is the chair of the SLM of CA TAP Subcommittee. During her three years at the UC CalFresh State Office, she has provided training and technical assistance to over 150 Certified TAPs throughout California. Prior to her work at the UC CalFresh State office, she worked as a TAP through the Butte County Cooperative Extension. MaryAnn’s favorite aspect of SLM is the ability to implement it in any setting, regardless of a school’s economic status. She is excited to attend the symposium and to learn best practices from other states, particularly around their work in childcare settings. 


MaryAnn received her BS in Health Education from California State University Chico and her MPH from San Jose State University. She has worked in the field of public health for over 10 years. Prior to her work with UC CalFresh, Mary Ann served as a Community Health Peace Corps Volunteer in Guyana, South America.

Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Provider (TAP): 5 years

Smarter Lunchrooms of California Collaborative TAP Subcommittee Chair


Bianca Smith, MDA, RD

Program Specialist Nutritionist, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – Child Nutrition Services

(Master of Dietetics Administration, Utah State University) As the state lead for the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and other school wellness initiatives in Washington, Bianca has helped hundreds of schools and child care institutions with the implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms and Smarter Mealtimes strategies. She has provided support through staff training, on-site technical assistance, and the completion of self-assessment scorecards and plate-waste studies. To support sustainable statewide Smarter Lunchrooms initiatives, she formed the Washington Smarter Lunchrooms Partners support group in March 2017, which consists of state and local level stakeholders for student wellness. She also collaborated with the Smarter Lunchrooms National Office on the development and promotion of the Smarter Mealtimes materials released in 2017. Bianca looks forward to learning about how other state collaboratives stay connected and share success stories.

Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Provider (TAP): 2 years

Worked with school lunchrooms: 3.5 years


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