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Re-Designing Your School Lunchroom Experience

Smarter Lunchroom Movement Shows that Simple Changes Support Healthy Choices

What is your favorite place to eat? Why do you like to eat there? What is the food like?

How many of your responses also relate to your school lunchroom?

For many of us, the school lunchroom experience may not be one that we would readily describe as enjoyable. But that’s just what several food service union leaders from school districts throughout California are seeking to change.

CSEA logoIn early August, nearly 30 of the state’s food service union leaders responsible for directing their school’s lunch experience in California filed into a small conference room at the California State Employee Association’s (CSEA) 88th annual conference in Sacramento to learn about free and low-cost ways to re-design school lunchrooms.

The breakout session – “Thriving Food Service with Smarter Lunchrooms” – was part of an effort to spread the principles and best practices of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, a project originally developed out of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

The session at CSEA’s conference was led by California Food Policy Advocates, with support from Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools and Office of Labor Management Partnership. CSEA leadership invited the Kaiser Permanente team to their annual conference to support CSEA union members who work in school lunchrooms.

School lunchroom service staff know the most about the ins and outs of a lunchroom including the students who eat there. They often feel the strain of preparing and serving quality food in a limited amount of time. In some schools, students have as little as 20 minutes to receive and eat their food.

Additionally, food service workers have to be aware of federal changes to school nutrition policies and implement those requirements. The breakout session provided practical ways to lessen the burden.

SLM logoThroughout the session, attendees shared experiences from their school lunchrooms, including the many challenges they face. Tracey Patterson from California Food Policy Advocates and Tamar Schnepp from Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership also offered their expertise.

After a lively discussion about eating preferences among those in the room, it became clear that how food is presented is just as important as how food tastes.

Participants received information on how to:

  • serve lunch as efficiently as possible while also respecting the role of food service employees
  • increase the appeal and visibility of healthy foods, and
  • improve the overall lunch experience for students and lunchroom employees.

Participants left the breakout session with a complimentary green apple slicer and at least 10 ideas on how to make high impact changes to their lunchrooms for under $10. Examples included:

  • placing healthier foods in convenient areas that are at students’ eye-level,
  • placing unhealthy foods in hard-to-reach locations, and
  • developing creative names to describe lunch entrees and displaying them on a white erase board.

You can find newly added resources on our Thriving Schools site here that talk about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, or visit the Cornell Center’s Smarter Lunchrooms Movement website.

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