Nudging students to make the healthy food choice

A few simple tips can create a positive lunchroom environment that nudges students to choose healthy reimbursable meals or food.

Time is a factor in students’ food choices at school. What they choose for lunch or sometimes choosing not to eat lunch because of the long lines impacts their health! Instead of letting them leave the cafeteria hungry or without a healthy choice, here are some tips to increase the number of healthy reimbursable meals or foods chosen. This could also lead to improving school meal participation.

  • Create a “healthy items only” convenience line. Hungry, time-pressed students are more likely to order foods that take little time to serve.
  • A grab and go line stocked with a variety of healthy snacks and entrees such as wrapped sandwiches/subs, prepackaged salads, yogurt parfaits (with fruit and nuts), and bagged lunches is a great solution for students on the go.
    • Student’s attention can be caught for the grab and go meal options by placing attractive, brightly colored signs near the line.
    • Emphasize time savings: “Short on time? Pick this line!”
    • Offer healthy drink options such as milk, water, and 100 percent fruit juice. Place these drinks in front of other sugary drinks.
    • Veggie packs, whole fruits, and whole wheat crackers are great snack options. Put these options in a variety of easy to grab locations. Placing the less healthy options out of reach or behind a cashier can nudge students to the easier access healthy choices. 

By rearranging snack windows and regular lines, you will be able to push students to choose healthy reimbursable meals or foods. These strategies and many more low cost or no cost ideas are part of the Smarter Lunchroom movement

Several Michigan State University Extension staff members throughout the state have been certified by Cornell University as Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) for assisting with Smarter Lunchroom strategies in school cafeterias. To connect with an MSU Extension staff member in your area, visit the MSU Extension expert page, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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