Smarter Lunchrooms: Why School Cafeterias Look Different than They Used To

If you give kids more fresh fruits and vegetables will they eat more? This is the kind of question researchers; school administrators and nutritionists ask as they evaluate school lunchrooms across America.

Nutrition facilitators from the Healthy Schools Healthy Families program at Genesee County Intermediate School District (GISD) have begun the first phase of a process to look at current school lunchroom practices. First up is a review of several schools’ Smarter Lunchroom Scorecard results. The scorecard contains 60 simple, no-cost or low-cost strategies lunchrooms can employ to make sure what gets made gets eaten.

The Healthy Schools Healthy Families Program is helping schools take stock to examine whether they meet best student meal practices, like offering, at least, two types of fruits and making sure it’s displayed in multiple places in the serving line.

Studies show that providing multiple displays of healthier food items drives consumption, particularly when the display is in front of the point of sale. A 2012 study by the Rudd Center at the University of Connecticut found that giving kids more fruit choices increases consumption. Having one additional type of fruit to choose from in the cafeteria was associated with a nine percent increase in the fruit selected.

Other points being addressed include whether vegetables are served with low-fat, healthy dips or sauces, like hummus or salsa. There’s also interest in holding monthly vegetable taste tests in schools.

The scorecard looks at cafeteria culture, considering questions like:

  • Are students actively involved in selecting menu items?

A few schools have already clocked progress in some areas. Students with special needs at four GISD locations enjoyed fresh apples and pears from Montrose Orchards this fall and will soon sample berries and fruits from local orchards and the Flint Food Hub, as part of the school meals program.

“Some schools even grow their own produce in classrooms, which helps to increase both student interest and appetites for fresh produce,” says Genesee Intermediate School District’s Healthy Schools Healthy Families Program Manager Leah Cox.

Parents can expect to see the first round of study results by the end of the school year, according to Cox.

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