Can a school lunchroom be smarter?

Several schools throughout the state will be engaging Smarter Lunchroom strategies to nudge students into making healthier food choices.

Picture your student at lunch in the school cafeteria. They are hungry, stressed about their sixth period math test, and their upcoming weekend plans. As they walk through the line, they quickly grab the whole wheat turkey sub, carrot sticks, and sports drink. It’s just a typical day in the life of a high school student. Let’s stop and think, why did they choose this meal? Were they actively thinking about it, or was it a quick and easy option? Would they have chosen water instead of the sports drink if it were easily accessible?

The Smarter Lunchrooms movement explores the choices students make involving their food and by providing evidence-based practices, guides schools into setting up lunchrooms in a manner that nudges students into making healthier food choices. Developed by the B.E.N. Center (Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs) at Cornell University, the focus is making the connection between child health, school environments, and behavioral sciences. An example of an easy Smarter Lunchroom strategy is placing the white milk in front of the chocolate milk in lunchroom coolers, which resulted in an increase of up to 46 percent in white milk sales! Cornell University also found that by displaying vegetable with fun new names increased the selection of the vegetables from 40-70 percent or by introducing a “healthy choices only” convenience line that students increased their consumption of healthy items by 35 percent.

In the 2014-15 school year Michigan State University Extension has been working with 50 schools throughout the state, assisting them in identifying easy, low cost/no cost, sustainable solutions food service personnel can use in their lunchrooms. These schools will be rolling out these new strategies this fall. During the 2015-16 school year, MSU Extension will be recruiting an additional 50 schools to participate in the Smarter Lunchroom program with financial incentives again slated to be offered through a Michigan Department of Education Team Nutrition grant.

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