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Smarter Lunchrooms

Minneapolis School Embraces Family-Style Dining

How do you create a better lunch experience for students? It all started with a conversation between Ginger Davis Kranz, Principal of Webster Elementary School, and the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Director of Food Service, Bertrand Weber. In September 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit Webster Elementary School in Minneapolis and see for myself how their family-style dining works. I’d like to share Webster Principal Ginger Davis Kranz’s inspiring blog about her school’s innovative and thoughtful approach to the students’ mealtime experience.

By Ginger Davis Kranz, Principal of Webster Elementary School

What if school lunchtime was more than just a wait in line and a race to find a seat and eat, but instead was more like a traditional family meal – a time when friends gather to enjoy their food, engage in meaningful conversation, build relationships and gain important life skills? After reflecting on this question, Webster Elementary, a Minneapolis public school, made the decision to abandon the typical chaotic and impersonal lunchroom experience and create a family-style dining program.

Back to School with Student-Led Smarter Lunchrooms

Teenagers at several schools across the country are working together with school nutrition staff to make changes to the school cafeteria.  Informed by Smarter Lunchrooms’ research, these students are promoting healthful foods to their peers and having a say in menu offerings.  Team Nutrition Training Grants help fund a number of school activities that engage students in nutrition education and wellness activities.  To learn more about Team Nutrition Training Grant activities, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/team-nutrition-training-grants.

The following guest blog describes how Iowa high school students worked with school nutrition staff to alter the way fruits and vegetables are offered in their school cafeteria. Following the changes, other students have taken notice of the new colorful displays, creative menu names, and signs promoting the salad bars. Reading their story, you’ll learn about innovative ways to engage youth in school wellness efforts.

By Carrie Scheidel, MPH, Team Nutrition Co-Director, Iowa Department of Education

As teachers prepared their classrooms for the new school year, school nutrition professionals and students in Iowa were working to make their lunchrooms smarter.   A partnership between the University of Iowa Public Policy Center – College of Public Health, Iowa Department of Education, and five Iowa high schools worked to apply Smarter Lunchrooms’ techniques to make healthy choices easier at school.

Students Get Involved in School Lunch through School Lunch Advisory Councils

There are many ways Team Nutrition schools are involving students in the development of school meal menus and health promotion activities.  These activities can help schools offer nutritious foods in a manner that appeals to children and can help students learn about nutrition and school foodservice.  This guest blog highlights promising strategies for involving students in school meals through the use of School Lunch Advisory Councils.  It also describes how Montana students are playing a role in helping their schools implement Smarter Lunchrooms techniques to reduce food waste and increase consumption of healthful foods.  

Interested in implementing Smarter Lunchrooms techniques at your school? Get started with this free self-assessment checklist from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program. Team Nutrition provides nutrition education materials, training tools, and grants to assist schools in creating healthier environments. Learn more about Team Nutrition and how to become a Team Nutrition school at http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/team-nutrition.

Think Nutrition as High School Students Return to School

The start of the school year is a great time to get high school students thinking about the nutrition and physical activity choices they make. USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Team Nutrition have a variety of resources available to support high school educators as they guide students on their path to good health.

SuperTracker Lesson Plans for High School Students

CNPP has just released updated SuperTracker Nutrition Lesson Plans for High School Students. This free nutrition education resource for teachers, schools, and health educators helps students grades 9-12 learn how to build a healthy diet using MyPlate and SuperTracker, an interactive food and physical activity tracking tool. Originally released in 2014, the lesson plans have been updated to reflect the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and two new lessons have been added.

Massachusetts' Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

Through the Team Nutrition initiative, USDA provides grants to state agencies to expand and enhance their training and educational activities to help schools provide appealing and nutritious meals, nutrition education and healthier school environments. These efforts are designed to help children get the nutrition they need to learn, grow and be healthy.  In addition to grants, Team Nutrition provides free nutrition education materials to schools, child care settings and summer meal sites that participate in the Child Nutrition programs.

By Samantha Therrien, graduate student, Framingham State University Food and Nutrition Program & Karen McGrail, MEd, RDN, LDN, Director, the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University

It’s that time again! As students head back to school many school nutrition programs across Massachusetts are continuing to use Smarter Lunchrooms strategies gained through their participation in a USDA Team Nutrition grant. The research-based Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, established at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, focuses on creating sustainable lunchrooms that make the healthy choice, the easy choice for students. The Movement is based on the idea that even small, low-cost changes can make a big difference, and Massachusetts schools are benefitting from this first-hand.

USDA Team Nutrition Grants Promote Healthier Meals for Our Nation's Schoolchildren

Schools are successfully serving more nutritious meals to America's students, and healthier meals mean healthier kids. USDA is constantly working to do everything we can to support school nutrition professionals as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults. To further assist schools, USDA announced the availability of up to $5.5 million in Team Nutrition training grants for states for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. These grants focus on the implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms - an innovative strategy using behavioral economics to encourage healthy eating in the cafeteria - as well as the healthier meal standards, HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), USDA Foods, nutrition education, and wellness activities in schools and child care institutions. To apply for the grants, state agencies should visit www.grants.gov.

Here are some examples of how Team Nutrition grants have helped schools in the past:

Creative Solutions to Ending School Food Waste

Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium. Approximately one-third of all food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels.  While research has shown that food wasted by children is similar to the rest of the U.S. population, there are many ways schools can reduce food waste and teach students about the impact it has on the environment and in their community.

At Chesterbrook Elementary School in McClean, VA, every student learns how to separate waste into categories like recyclables, food to be donated, upcycling bins, and general trash.  The school’s Eco Team, run by sixth graders, ensures their fellow students are putting waste into the correct bin. The team then collects, weighs, categorizes, and places the food to be donated into separate refrigerators, provided by the Food Bus, a non-profit organization that works with schools to donate food that would otherwise go to waste.

On the Road to the School Nutrition Association Conference

Next week, I, along with dozens of staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have the pleasure of joining thousands of school nutrition professionals, members of the public health community, and food industry representatives in Boston at the 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association (SNA).  This annual event provides an opportunity for stakeholders in the school nutrition community to network, gain ideas, and learn from one another.

As a past president of SNA myself, I look forward to this meeting each year.  Being surrounded by dedicated nutrition professionals who all want to make sure we are providing the best possible support to our nation’s children, and hearing about all the creative approaches schools are using to successfully serve healthy school meals is quite a treat.  I am excited to be able to meet with members of the community one-on-one, and hear firsthand about their successes, as well as their challenges.  I also look forward to speaking to the larger audience during the second general session on Tuesday.  My USDA colleagues will be on-hand throughout the conference to gather more feedback and provide additional information, technical assistance and other support to school nutrition professionals.

Creating a Healthier Next Generation and Supporting a Healthier School Day

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, students across America are being served meals with more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.  Parents can send their kids to school knowing that the healthy habits they teach at home are being reinforced at school, with breakfast and lunch menus that provide more of the foods we should eat, and less of the foods that we should avoid.

Parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, communities, and policy makers are working hard to make sure that school environments support a healthier next generation.