How can you improve school lunches where you live, no matter where you live? I write about how the French serve amazingly healthy lunches, but what about your school lunches? If you are involved in creating or serving school lunches, or you are a concerned parent, here are ten ideas that you can pick and choose from to improve school lunches offered at your school. Little by little, the kids in your school will have more access to healthy options that seem attractive to them. The end goal and long-term objective is for children to choose healthy options on their own!
Create a “tray” example
Create a model healthy tray that kids can see while they are waiting in line. Make it full of healthy choices and foods the kids recognise too. Give them a “template” of what kind of meal they can choose. No food should be demonised, but healthy options should occupy a majority of the tray.
Sponsor a poster contest that individuals (or an entire class) can make showing healthy and delicious lunches with nutritious messages or nutrition information. Decorate the cafeteria and hallways leading to the cafeteria with the posters. A contest will allow everyone to get involved in a fun activity, while raising awareness and reinforcing nutritious messages.
Make short term challenges at the school (week long at most, or once a week for a month for example) regarding nutrition. What class can eat the most fruits in one week at the cafeteria? Track fruit or veggie intake on a publicly displayed board for instance. Get creative, and challenge everyone, including teachers and staff. Make the prizes fun, celebrate the winners!
When kids are super hungry, they are more likely to eat what is offered! While they are waiting in line for school lunch, have a volunteer parent or older student offering small samples of fruits, carrot sticks, cucumber cubes. Maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised and grab more of the sample once they get their lunch.
Take the sample idea further and choose one day a month when a volunteer walks around the cafeteria during lunch offering free samples of healthy offerings. More often than not, children don’t choose things because they don’t eat them often (or ever). We all like the familiar. So by making healthy offerings more familiar, children will eventually choose them on their own.
Default side dish
Make vegetables (salads, cooked vegetables, crudités) the default side dish for all meals. Any fried foods or less healthy options (like French fries) can be made available only upon request.
Take a cue from supermarkets that put candy and chocolates by the register. Instead of candy, put ripe fruits, bags of nuts and other healthy options right next to the check out.
Post photos and descriptions of upcoming menus in the cafeteria and online. Sponsor a menu contest amongst the students to come up with their ideal, healthy lunch. Have the school vote for their favourite. Create the winning menu for lunch available to all students! This could be an activity once a semester or four times a year.
In the future, please watch out for other French school lunch menus coming up! If healthy school lunches interest you, please sign up for my newsletter and I will send you the latest news, articles and information on this hot topic!
Photo credit Manon Girardin