School meal programs need the support of the entire school community to succeed
There are many ways to get involved, for example:
- Parents can encourage students to try the variety of fruits and vegetables available with school meals by offering more variety at home
- Teachers can incorporate lessons on healthy eating into practical learning in the classroom, from studying the geographic origins of fruits and vegetables to using nutrition labels to calculate per package totals of sugar or sodium in popular snacks.
- Students can participate in the menu development process through taste tests and student advocacy committees; and
- Administrators can support efforts to improve lunch period scheduling to ensure students have adequate time to eat.
The first step to get involved in your school meal program is to gain an understanding of school nutrition operations and regulations. Browse through the About School Meals section of our website to read about how the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs work. Learn more about the challenges and financial constraints school nutrition professionals must balance when planning menus and preparing healthy school meals.
Remember that every school menu is different due to variations in enrollment, kitchen and equipment constraints, local costs of labor and ingredients. Even the length of the lunch period can impact menu planning, as schools with short lunch periods must provide more grab-and-go choices.
Parents are encouraged to find out more about their school meal programs. Review SNA’s list of FAQs and tips for learning about what is being served to your students.
10 Tips for Students Who Want to Make a Difference in the School Cafeteria
- Request a meeting with your school cafeteria manager to ask about current efforts to improve the menu and find out how you can get involved. He/she can answer questions about everything from menu items and preparation methods to waiting time in line. For more detailed questions, the cafeteria manager may refer you to the nutrition director who oversees cafeteria operations and menu planning for the entire school district.
- Find out if your school meal program has a student advisory group to provide feedback on meal choices and help with special events. This is your chance to get involved and have your voice heard!
- Talk to your school principal about establishing requirements for healthy concessions and fundraisers. Starting July 2014, all food sold in vending machines, a la carte lines and snack bars must meet nutrition standards, but foods sold in fundraisers and after-school events are exempt. Make sure your school isn’t raising money by selling junk food to students!
- Put some positive peer pressure on your friends, encouraging them to try the healthier menu choices and the variety of fruits and vegetables offered with school lunch under the new nutrition standards. There’s nothing worse than good, healthy food going to waste, but sometimes kids need a little encouragement to give a new food a try!
- Start a school garden. Students are far more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they raise the produce themselves. To get started, check out USDA’s School Garden Resources.
- Offer to host a fruit and vegetable taste test using produce from the garden, or to sample a new, healthy school menu item. No one can pass up a free sample, so taste tests are a great way to encourage kids to try new foods. Your school cafeteria manager may need some helping hands to prep and distribute samples.
- Ask for a copy of your school district’s local wellness policy and the process for updating it. This document establishes district-wide policies on everything from foods served in school to nutrition education and physical activity.
- Offer to organize a student recipe contest! If you work with your cafeteria manager to create contest rules requiring recipes to meet the meal program’s nutrition standards and budget, the winning recipe could end up on the cafeteria menu.
- Give your cafeteria staff some love! Participate in School Lunch Hero Day to show the women and men who work in your cafeteria that you appreciate their hard work to serve up healthy meals every school day.
- Don’t forget to get your school lunch! The more students who stop packing and start getting their lunch at school, the more money the cafeteria will have to make healthy improvements to the menu