While providing healthy lunch options in the school cafeteria is important, school districts across the country, including Turlock Unified School District, are learning ways to incite children to make consistently healthier choices for lunch.
Earlier this month U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $5.5 million in new grants will be available for schools to apply for with the aim of implementing “Smarter Lunchroom” strategies. These strategies, which induce children to choose healthier food at public school cafeterias, are derived from a study funded by the USDA, among other organizations, and developed by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics. The grants are being released as part of the USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative which aims to support child nutrition programs through training and technical assistance. TUSD Director of Child Nutrition Scott Soiseth sent four employees to a workshop in Fresno earlier this month to find out more about the “Smarter Lunchroom” movement as the District intends to apply for the grant.
“They were very impressed. This is more of the psychological part of working with children and the reasons why they choose the foods that they do and now we have more information on how to encourage them to choose better foods,” said Soiseth.
Smarter lunchroom strategies include structuring food choices in the lunch line so that healthy foods are the easiest to reach, having cafeteria staff dialog with students in a way that encourages them to choose healthier options as well as naming healthy foods and meals creatively to encourage students to choose them.
“Strategies like ‘Smarter Lunchrooms’ give schools simple, actionable, low-cost steps that help make sure that the healthy food on kids’ plates ends up in their stomachs,” said Vilsack.
The researched principals that the movement suggests have already given Soiseth ways to make improvements about the way information is communicated in the lunchroom, such as bringing healthy signs in the cafeteria down a few feet so that children can easily see them.
“We’ve always had a great marketing program, but the workshop in Fresno showed us some ways to fine-tune what we are doing,” said Soiseth.