As school meal programs continue to make changes as a result of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and growing concern over childhood obesity, it is important not to forget to involve the customers in the process. Yes, that’s right, school cafeterias have customers, too! And although a meal program may look fantastic on paper; incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables, hearty whole grains, and lean proteins, none of this really matters unless students are actually buying-and more importantly-consuming these meals.
Increasing school meal consumption means greater revenue for food service operations and greater nutrition for those who participate. This buy-in and acceptance also includes parents, who may be key decision-makers in whether or not students pack a lunch or purchase a meal from school, and also school faculty and staff who can help turn a profit if they approve the choices available. There are many ways to collect feedback from your stakeholders. Here are some suggestions:
- Allow students to serve on a Food and Nutrition Advisory Committee to help determine menu items and merchandising decisions. Committee members can be selected from existing groups such as: student council, wellness committees, or other student groups. Be sure that the selected students represent the diverse ages and interests of the entire student population.
- Conduct student feedback surveys during homeroom or advisory time. Allow students to voice their opinions about the things they like and the things they wish they could change.
- Offer tastings of new food items before they become permanent fixtures on the menu and let students weigh in.
- Put a suggestion box in the cafeteria and encourage students and staff to offer constructive feedback. Make sure that feedback is regularly considered and publicize changes made as a result.
- Hold contests that inspire student creativity to promote school meals. Display contest submissions and allow students to vote on a winning entry.
- Use a variety of communication strategies to promote school meals including: PA announcements, school website, and social media.
- Create special food-themed activities such as “Iron Chef” competitions and offer samples of the winning dish.
- Participate in parent organizations and inform parents in advance of changes to the school food program and how those changes came to be. Let them know that some changes are a result of federal regulations and that schools may have little control over them. Encourage parents to share this information with students.
- Invite parents to participate in the Food and Nutrition Advisory Committee to share their feedback.
- Promote the school meals program through a monthly parent newsletter or other regular communication home.
- Invite parents to attend a celebratory luncheon or other food-themed special event.
- Use professional development time to educate staff on the school meals program and the importance of strong meal participation.
- Encourage staff members to join the school’s student-led Food and Nutrition Committee.
- Elicit school meals feedback during staff meetings. Provide tastings of new menu items. Work with staff to develop healthy grab-and-go items that would inspire greater staff participation in meal programs.
- Work with staff to create menu themes aligned with core curriculum lessons and provide resources for integration of food and nutrition with core curriculum standards.
- Collaborate with art teachers and other enrichment staff on contests, food-themed activities, and other creative ways to connect food and nutrition to other content areas.
For more ideas on how to collect feedback, including sample surveys and focus group how-tos, visit https://www.healthiergeneration.org/take_action/schools/
For an inspiring story of the power of the youth voice, click below:
April Neujean, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County