While most members of the school community are generally in favor of changes that can improve the school environment for students, one of the challenges that sometimes crops up when a Smarter Lunchroom Makeover is proposed is resistance from the school administration. A principal or superintendent’s concerns are usually not related to nutrition or even food, but are focused instead on how the proposed changes are going to affect the functioning of the lunchroom. Will it work? What is it going to cost? Will the changes slow the lunch line down? Are kids going to complain? Will parents start emailing or calling and is there any chance a Smarter Lunchroom Makeover will push the cafeteria balance sheet into the red?
These are all legitimate questions that an administrator has a right to be concerned about and have answered. The good news is that as an advocate for a Smarter Lunchroom Makeover (SLM) , you can not only address these concerns, you can also provide them with reasons why a SLM can be a direct benefit to the administration. Here are some basic answers to the questions and some potential benefits that can make a fan out of even the biggest skeptics.
- All SLM recommendations and techniques are evidence and research based; we don’t suggest it if we have not verified it in multiple real world cafeteria experiments. To strengthen your position, use research based facts when discussing with administration to support the changes you want to make.
- Properly done, over a weekend or school break, many of the SLM techniques won’t even be noticed by the kids. Many of the things they do notice, like a new fruit bowl or naming signs, are not very likely to give rise to complaints. Rearranging the foods on the line does not increase the time it takes for kids to get lunch.
- SLMs are Low Cost/No Cost. Virtually all of the changes can be accomplished with a minimum of staff time (especially if you have some help from your PTA or other school group) and at minimal cost. Be clear and specific about what you would like to change and how much it will cost for implementation. A new bowl or basket from a discount store can cost as little as a dollar.
- In some studies, we have even seen an increase in participation rates, which actually offers a chance for the cafeteria to increase revenue.
- Let them know that this is part of a growing trend. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement is in over 15,000 schools nationwide and has been endorsed by the School Nutrition Association, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Let’s Move/Chef’s Move to Schools and many other organizations.
- Employing SLM techniques can help get your school national recognition. They are now part of the USDA’s Healthy US School Challenge optional criteria and one of the easiest ways a school can get started on their HUSSC application.
- Taking action to improve the nutritional intake of students is something the school can brag about. Give your administrator a draft of a press release to send to the local paper or radio station talking about how the school is using research from Cornell University to help improve the diet and health of the student body.
- They don’t have to do anything but reap the rewards. SLM changes are simple to do and easy to maintain. Once they are implemented and people see that they work, they’ll start looking for more ways they can improve the lunchroom.
The most important thing to do in order to get your administration on board is to communicate with them, preferably in advance. Give them a schedule of when and how you plan to implement the changes you have chosen and make sure they see the research that shows how effective and low cost the changes are. Communicate your enthusiasm and understanding for what you want to change and be open-minded, show that you are flexible and willing to compromise when necessary. Above all make sure they know these simple changes can help them be proactive and how they can be leveraged into good public relations for the school community.
Adam Brumberg, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs
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Smarter Lunchrooms Movement