The Top 5 Nutrition Education Strategies of 2016

With 2017 only weeks away – it is time to celebrate the best of school nutrition.

In Ohio, 92 schools joined the Smarter Lunchroom Movement during the past school year. School nutrition staff implemented simple strategies that increased the availability of healthful items, encouraged trial of unfamiliar foods, and reinforced healthy student eating.

Taste tests, nutrition education, salad bar enhancements, cooking events, and plate waste studies were the most frequent types of activities.

Here are the highlights from this year’s most creative nutrition strategies – we hope they inspire your own success story in the coming year. Specific school stories will be posted on this blog over the upcoming months.

Taste Tests

Taste events are a fun, pressure-free way to introduce bite-sized samples of new food items. They also provide a quick, casual way to teach students about local food items, food properties, and healthful food choices. Curious students sampled over 38,732 items!

  • 65 schools held a taste test event;
  • 24 types of fruit were sampled;
  • 47 types of vegetables were sampled;
  • 25 schools added new items to the menu.


Nutrition Education

Nutrition education provides information about food properties and activities that help students develop skills for making nutritious food choices. The best nutrition education provides hands-on experiences that allow learners to engage with food, expand food preferences, and creates a willingness to try new foods and preparations.

The Smarter Lunchroom grant schools used menu boards and social media, and held events to engage students, teachers, parents, and community members in healthful eating.

  • 18 schools held nutrition education events;
  • 5 newspaper articles featured school nutrition events;
  • 28 blogs were posted on OHIO Smarter Lunchrooms;
  • 793 resources were downloaded from OHIO Smarter Lunchrooms.

Salad Bar Enhancements

Salad bars are an efficient way to offer a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable items.  Students can serve themselves and create salads tailored to their taste preferences. There is something for everyone in a well-stocked salad bar.

The placement of the salad bar, and the visual appeal of the items on the bar are important aspects for maximizing use. Bars are more likely to be visited if they sit directly in a traffic pattern, with eye-catching displays.

  • 32 salad bars were enhanced;
  • Over 50 signs were purchased;
  • 32 grab-and-go stations were created or improved.

Chef and Cooking Events

Cooking events encourage positive attitudes towards food. Cooking events bring fun into the kitchen, allow chefs to work with students and staff to develop creative entrees, and build skills for lifelong healthy eating.

Chef-run cooking classes are also a hit with school nutrition staff. Chefs assist nutrition staff expand their cooking skills, prepare and sample new items, and enhance flavor on recipe items.

Operationally, scratch cooking can result in food that is more appealing to students.  Districts can use this method to manage costs and control nutritional quality.

  • 15 schools held a cooking event;
  • 299 middle school students wrote an essay about wanting to be a sous chef;
  • 4 new recipes were created.

Tray Waste Studies

Tray waste is one way to measure school meal consumption. By observing the food left on the tray, conclusions can be made about the food that was consumed. It is one of the most direct ways to report what children are eating.

Measuring student nutrition behaviors is good practice. Measurements help professionals identify working strategies, assist in menu planning, and ultimately reduce the amount of food waste. Sixteen schools in this cohort completed tray waste studies.

  • 7,515 trays were observed and coded;
  • 38 days of tray waste was observed and coded;
  • 6 summary reports were shared with school nutrition staff.

A Team Nutrition Training Grant, through the United States Department of Agriculture, funds the project. The grant is administered through the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Child Nutrition.

We thank the following school districts for sharing their activities, photographs, and data. Their stories will be posted on this blog over the upcoming months.

Austintown Local; Beavercreek City; Black River Local; Boardman Local; Cloverleaf Local; Columbus City; Edison Local; Fairfield Local; Fairview Park City;

Grand Valley Local; James A. Garfield Local; Leipsic Local; Marlington Local; Minster Local; Mount Vernon City; Pickerington Local; Springfield Local; Sebring Local; Summit Academy – Xenia; Warren City.


Meals Matter!

If your daily participation increased by nine meals a day, what would be the financial impact of those nine meals? Take a quick guess…

About $4,800 a year?

Healthy Lunch TrayThat is correct – increasing participation by nine meals a day could generate an additional $4,800 a year. Here’s the math: 9 meals a day at a price of $3 a day for 180 days = $4860. This quick example illustrates the importance of average daily attendance (ADP) to a healthy school meal program.

A nutritious school lunch energizes children for an afternoon of learning and establishes eating patterns that will carry them into a healthy adulthood. Consistent levels of meal participation are also healthy for the school lunch program. Regular meal participation allows staff to efficiently plan menus which leads to lesser amounts of waste.

Over the 2015-2016 academic year, Ohio Team Nutrition schools and their local partners will implement a variety of strategies to increase fruit, vegetable, and overall meal consumption.

Average daily participation (ADP) is an important indicator of school lunch performance. There can be some confusion on how to calculate it. This summer, in a workshop by Susan Peterman from the Institute of Child Nutrition, we learned how to calculate this important target. Here’s what we learned:

1) To calculate ADP, first calculate the average number of reimbursable meals served per day (Average Meals). Calculate it over a period of time, typically a month, to account for variations by day of the week, student absenteeism, etc.

Average Meals per Day =

(Meals Served ÷ Number of Days) x 100%

2) Next, obtain the average daily attendance number from the school. Subtract students, if any, who do not have access to the school lunch program. For example, students who attend half-day kindergarten may be excluded from the calculation.

Student Access to School  Lunch Program = 

                  Student Attendance – Number of Students Without Access                                                               

3) ADP calculation is then the average meals divided by the number of eligible students.

Average Daily Participation =

(Average Meals ÷ Student Access) X 100%

Here’s an example:

Step 1: Calculate Average Meals

8,200 meals sold in October / 20 days = 410 Average Meals

Step 2: Calculate the Students with Access to School Lunch

650 average student attendance in October – 50 students without access =

600 Students with Access to Lunch

Step 3: Calculate ADP

410 average meals / 650 students = 63% participation

Download a blank ADP worksheet under the Resources tab on the main menu above.

ADP is one component of our efforts to measure school lunch performance. Other common measures include:

  • Fruit and Vegetable selection – calculated through production records
  • Salad bar use – calculated by observation or production records
  • Percentage of students who eat a serving of vegetables – calculated through tray waste
  • Percentage of students who eat a serving of fruit – calculated through tray waste

Check back later for new blog posts regarding other school lunch performance measures.

Ready, Set, Goal!

Before you get ready to take off, make sure you set a goal!apple-circle

A goal should identify a specific behavior target. Good goals are also realistic and attainable – the goal should motivate us, not overwhelm us. Here are five nutrition goals you might consider for your cafeteria project. Pick one or more of these examples, or feel free to create your own target.carrot-circle

  • Number of reimbursable meals sold
  • Fruit selection and consumption
  • Vegetable selection and consumption
  • Salad bar use
  • Milk and dairy intakegreen-pepper-circle

For each goal, you will need to implement multiple strategies to produce change. Rarely, does one activity bring about change in complex eating behaviors.

Maximize Your Resources

Before beginning your cafeteria project, identify what resources are available to you and your staff. Next, begin to select activities that work together toward the desired end result. Instead of doing a little of everything, organize activities around the goal(s). This goal-driven approach to selecting activities gets the biggest bang for your buck.

Track and Measure Change

Once your project goal(s) is created, now it’s time to track and measure change! A well-stated goal should tell us the item to be measured. It will also be easier to describe the amount of change your project has achieved if you document the starting point. Check back later this month for our next blog introducing suggested measures for these behaviors!

How Does Your Cafeteria Score?

Why do we need to complete environmental checklists? Think about your daily work routine. You encounter the same co-workers, tend to the same tasks and know your work place environment like the back of your hand. With familiarity, though, we may not notice smaller details. The environmental checklist allows you to see your workplace through a different lens.

CodersThe Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard is a simple way to identify opportunities for improvement. This easy-to-complete scorecard focuses on six key cafeteria service areas:

  • Focusing on fruit
  • Promoting vegetables and salad
  • Moving more white milk
  • Entrée of the day
  • Increasing sales and reimbursable meals
  • Creating school synergies

Check the items that are already in place. Once the scorecard is complete, take time to review the unchecked items. The unchecked items can become areas to address in your cafeteria update!

Using Photos

While you’re filling out your Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard, grab a camera and take some shots! Photos can also help you see your cafeteria through a different lens.  Make sure to capture all aspects of the cafeteria, including the service areas. These photos will be helpful later in documenting change. Follow these simple tips for great photos:

  1. Make sure the item/area is well lit
  2. Play with different angles
  3. Take multiple shots of the same subject
  4. Move in close to catch details
  5. Click a wide view to show set-up and flow

Involve Others

The scorecard can be a useful tool for getting others involved in your project. Ask teachers, parents and wellness committee members to fill out a scorecard too. It doesn’t hurt to have a fresh set of eyes to help your team achieve success! After reviewing the scorecards, you and your team will likely have plenty of great ideas!

Set a Goal

Before painting walls, buying baskets and moving milk cartons, take a brief moment and decide what you would like to accomplish with your cafeteria update. What behavior changes would you like to see through your project? This is your project goal. By setting goals and sharing progress updates, others will be able to follow your success story. Check back on our next blog to learn more about goal setting!

Click on the link below to access your Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard!

Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment

The Lunch Tray

kids and food, in school and out

Live Healthy Live Well

Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences

School Meals That Rock

Featuring school nutrition programs that serve kids well

%d bloggers like this: