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The Cafeteria: Serve up Smarter Lunchrooms

If you’re looking to help create a healthier environment in your child’s school, we’d say the cafeteria is a pretty good place to start. Since students visit it on a daily basis (and are a captive audience), the cafeteria is ideal for promoting both healthy food choices and physical activity. So while you are working with administrators and food service staff to provide healthier school meal options, here are some things you can do to jazz up the place where they’re served.

Spruce Things Up

Visual cues are huge in establishing healthy habits. Get a few easy wins by creating promotional signs, posters and table toppers and encouraging cafeteria workers to place healthy foods like fruits and veggies at kid-eye level and within easy reach. A bigger-but-totally-worthwhile undertaking: orchestrating the creation of a mural or student artwork to adorn the wall(s). Here’s how to get started:

  • Brainstorm a few ideas and present them to your school administration and food service manager. Focus the conversation on how sprucing up the cafeteria supports school wellness policies (by encouraging students to eat better and move more) and may even increase the number of students eating school meals (resulting in more money for the school program).
  • Form a redesign team of administrators, food service staff, teachers, parents and students to discuss cafeteria needs, develop a vision and put a plan into place for the cafeteria spruce-up. Identify a location for the mural or artwork
  • Get your art/photography/ceramics teachers on board. What role can they play?
  • Budget for resources. Host a healthy/active fundraiser to raise money for paint and supplies. Contact your local hardware or paint store to see if they would be willing to donate paint, supplies or volunteers.

Involve students and the community in creating the mural, and make a day of service out of it. And don’t forget to celebrate the new space! After painting, host a healthy foods taste test or family fun day to showcase your redesigned cafeteria.

Here are some other ways to create an inviting cafeteria:

  1. Join your son or daughter for lunch! Letting kids see grown-ups making healthy choices in the cafeteria says more than any poster or sign can. Mark your calendar for National Take Your Parent to Lunch Day.
  2. Greet students in line…especially the little ones. And don’t forget about the cafeteria workers! Make sure you acknowledge them and show your appreciation for what they do.
  3. Let kids talk. Imagine sitting around the break room at work with several coworkers and being told to eat your lunch in silence. Awkward! And not much fun. Kids are no different. Silent lunch only keeps their boundless energy bottled up–and no teacher wants that.
  4. Encourage teachers not to punish kids by making them sit at a separate lunch table by themselves. We want them to develop a positive association with eating, not a negative one.

Master the Cafeteria Mural

Enlist a teacher or parent with some mad art skills to help design a mural. That’s how Fell Elementary in Philadelphia created theirs!

Categories: School Environment