As every northern California or northern Nevada school nutrition director knows, student participation is critical to the overall success of a school nutrition program. If students opt out of school meals, it makes it that much harder to deliver quality, nutritious foods to those who don't.
So if participation is such an issue, what are some of the innovative ways a program can encourage students to buy school lunches instead of the other available options?
3 Ways to Increase Student Foodservice Participation:
MAKE SCHOOL FOOD MORE APPEALING
When you take it at face value, yes, the food has to be tasty and high quality when compared to other options. The more appealing school food looks and tastes, the more students will eat it. But that's not the only factor. When schools create serving lines and stations that are appealing, too, this also increases participation. Across the country, many schools are sprucing up their serving lines and are creating environments that look more like food courts than lunch lines.
SERVE A VARIETY OF OPTIONS
When school nutrition programs embrace innovative and more appealing ways to serve foods, they're also committing to serving a variety of foods. Schools with multiple serving areas can provide a whole range of menu items at the same time, and in an era when consumer tastes are shifting toward more ethnic style foods and a desire for variety, this type of school foodservice will appeal to a wider audience.
GIVE STUDENTS TIME TO EAT
This is one of the biggest challenges to participation. In some cases, students are barely given 30 minutes to eat lunch, so when it takes 15 minutes to wait in a lunch line, participation will inevitably decrease. On the other hand, when schools provide more variety with a myriad of serving stations, or when they develop serving lines that are more efficient, students will have time to actually enjoy the quality and variety a school provides.
BE INNOVATIVE WITH SCHOOL FOODSERVICE
In many high schools, students are given the option to leave campus, to take a break from the school environment. This says as much about the student mentality as it does about the food they eat. Instead of letting students migrate off campus for lunch, consider innovative solutions like food trucks that still provide the impression of leaving school without actually doing it.