The results are in: Smarter Lunchrooms strategies can have a big impact on fruit and vegetable consumption -- just ask the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Staff of the Martin County, FL School District! During the 2016/17 school year, Registered Dietitian and FNS Specialist Yvonne Potsko and FNS Director Laura Holmedal implemented a district-wide Smarter Lunchrooms initiative that resulted in greater excitement about eating healthy foods and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
The initiative began when the Martin County FNS team identified a problem needing a solution: students weren’t selecting fruits and veggies and many were being thrown away. Mrs. Holmedal and Mrs. Potsko created an action plan for elementary schools that targeted fresh fruit and vegetable offerings with select Smarter Lunchroom strategies and food art techniques.
To start, they engaged the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (SNAP-Ed in Florida) to conduct a Smarter Lunchrooms training for 22 cafeteria and FNS staff in October 2016. The training provided an overview of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and outlined specific, research-based strategies that can “nudge” students toward making healthier food choices in the lunchroom. The training was a crucial step in motivating cafeteria managers to take part in a district-wide Smarter Lunchrooms initiative.
Next, the FNS department provided cafeteria managers at the elementary level with inexpensive resources and tools to implement a variety of creative marketing strategies that would make selecting fruits and veggies the easy and fun choice. These low- and no-cost tools included:
The district’s efforts paid off! An analysis was conducted at one of the school sites that compared the amount of fresh produce sold the week before implementation to the week of the implementation. The analysis found an average increase of 62.8% for fruit and 13.8% for vegetables the week when the Smarter Lunchroom Strategies were in place. Additionally, district-wide elementary lunch participation increased by 6% and staff observed a decrease in plate waste.
These exciting results culminated in a USDA Annual Best Practices Award, which rewards outstanding practices in School Food Service Authorities and Schools! (School Food Service officials should contact their USDA state office for information on how to apply.) Martin County FNS will be expanding their Smarter Lunchroom program to middle and high schools during the 2017/2018 school year.
By following Martin County’s example, school districts, SNAP-Ed agencies, and partner organizations in any locale can collaborate to champion a successful Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. Some keys to success include central leadership from the FNS department, conducting a Smarter Lunchrooms training and brainstorming session for school food service staff, providing inexpensive tools and resources to cafeteria managers, and sharing photos of creative fruit and vegetable displays to serve as inspiration. The results speak for themselves!