If you are a school foodservice director, you have a big job on your hands. You’re among the nation’s dedicated professionals who design, prepare and serve healthy lunches to 30 million students every day. Knowing how to improve school lunches holds an important place on your list of responsibilities.
Keeping Cafeterias Cool for Kids: 8 Ideas for Improving School Lunches
It’s about more than understanding how to make school lunches healthier. The kids have to buy in. For changes to be successful, you need them on board. You want them to get excited about lunch because it makes such a positive difference in their health and their grades.
We offer these eight ideas for keeping students happy and lunch cool in your school’s cafeteria.
1. Encourage Student Input
School children across the country eat healthier than they did 10 years ago. Recent studies indicate that federal standards established in 2012 are working. Kids really are eating more fruits and vegetables at school.
Make this shift in young tastes work for you. Set up a simple system that encourages students to identify favorite healthy foods. Their input and preferences help you develop successful school lunch ideas.
2. Phase In Changes
Give students time to adjust to changes in the cafeteria. Phase in lunch improvements by introducing a few new items once or twice a month. Make sure innovations stay interesting by offering a different version of the latest menu addition on a weekly basis.
This gradual approach keeps youngsters interested in new lunch dishes and gives them something to look forward to. It’s also easier on foodservice budgets and inventory management.
3. Upgrade Kid Classics
Better school lunches begin with dishes that kids already love. Upgrade kid classics with simple strategies like baking instead of frying. Improve their favorites with healthier ingredients. Give kids plenty of variety too.
• Offer different veggie and dip combos several times a week.
• Replace regular fries with oven-baked sweet potato slices.
• Serve raw veggie wraps with romaine hearts as crunchy alternatives to tacos.
4. Know Your Sources
Solutions for healthier school lunches often start with knowing more about your vendors. It’s cost effective to rely on trusted national food distributors, but don’t overlook opportunities in the surrounding community either. Local operations are excellent sources for fresh ingredients.
Area food suppliers can also help extend student education. Arrange weekend field trips that focus on farmers markets and local growers. Plan visits to different operations like dairy farms and commercial orchards.
5. Market the Cool Cafeteria
More and more school administrators are embracing the power of social media to promote campus activities. Make it work for your improved school lunches by getting the word out across digital platforms. Traditional marketing can be just as effective.
• Put up bright posters announcing upcoming lunch improvements.
• Hand out mini menus highlighting exciting new entrees.
• Develop a cafeteria mascot who visits with kids during lunch.
6. Make Presentation Count
Take a cue from restaurants on how to make school lunches more appealing by making food presentation count. Give children a reason to reach for healthy options on the cafeteria line.
• Offer colorful veggie finger foods that grab hungry youngsters’ attention.
• Assign different entrees fun names that appeal to kids.
• Post illustrated signage explaining different dishes’ nutritional value.
7. Give the Kids a Garden
Imagine the pride in your cafeteria when vegetables in wraps and soups are campus-grown. If your school doesn’t have field space, work with organizations in the community to establish a student vegetable garden.
Picture planning your school’s salad bar with kids who help grow the veggies. It’s a classic win-win idea. School gardening encourages student involvement, promotes healthy eating and helps control food costs.
8. Let Them Help
Not everyone can spend time in the school garden, so create other fun opportunities for student involvement. Set up monthly tastings for trying out new lunch ideas. Use your school’s social media to announce winning dishes.
Hold cooking classes for older kids, and let younger ones participate as sous chefs. Invite art classes to design imaginative cafeteria posters. Regardless of the activity, always let students know that they play a very important role in bringing better tasting school lunches to the table.
We’re Proud to Be At Your Service
When everyone works together making school lunches better, kids are happier and healthier. It takes patience to upgrade existing programs, but the results are worth the wait. We hope our suggestions help refresh your school’s lunch program and keep your cafeteria cool.
It’s our goal to support foodservice directors across the country with fresh ideas and online inspiration. As one of California’s leading produce growers and suppliers, Boggiatto always stands proud to be at your service.