Brain foods

In the Tulsa (Okla.) Public School District, special menus were created to enhance the students' brain function during testing weeks. More fresh fruit and whole-grain options were added to the menus, as well as those options that are high in antioxidants. During the program, breakfast participation increased 4.3%.

At A Glance: Tulsa Public Schools

•Nearly 43,000 students in 88 schools

•42,150 reimbursable meals served daily

•74% free and reduced

•Breakfast participation increased 4.3% during testing weeks, April 10-25, when Brain Foods were served

•60 elementary schools served Brain Foods at both breakfast and lunch

•Brain Foods menus increased offerings of fresh fruits and protein while decreasing or eliminating high sugar items


Since 2002, when No Child Left Behind was signed into law, the importance of testing in schools has increased as administrators try to meet academic standards to receive federal funding. In the nearly 43,000-student Tulsa (Okla.) Public Schools, Child Nutrition Services teamed up with the district’s brain-based learning teacher—a teacher who develops educational techniques based on current psychological and neurological research in order to provide a classroom environment that is conducive to learning—to offer foods during testing weeks that, it is hoped, would increase students’ memory and attention, enhance learning and, ultimately, increase test scores.

Concentration: “This whole thing started when an administrator asked if we could serve grapes at breakfast during testing week because research had shown grapes helped a lot with things like concentration,” says Lisa Griffin, the district’s child nutrition coordinator at this Sodexo account. From this simple question, a new program was launched: Brain Foods. “I asked him if there were any other foods that the research had found to be helpful, and he said to contact Lynn McKenney. I did and that’s how Brain Foods started.”

For her part, McKenney, pathwise specialist—a teacher who supports new teachers in their first two years in education—and the district’s brain-based learning teacher, says: “We didn’t want our foods to fight against efforts the children were making in the classroom. We know that food and nutrition builds brain function, so we wanted to do something to complement what the teachers were doing in the classrooms with nutrition.”

During testing weeks, foods that were proven by research to increase the brain’s cognition, memory and alertness were substituted for the regular offerings. “Most of the foods we wanted were high in antioxidants and also high in fiber, so that there is a slow release of glucose and not a fast one that causes the blood sugars to vary,” Griffin says. “We also wanted foods high in protein, which is good for keeping the blood sugars level so students can perform well.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

Ideas and Innovation

When it comes to sustainability, sometimes the smallest kitchen changes can make the biggest difference. When Chris Henning, senior assistant director of dining services for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, switched from standard latex gloves to nitrile gloves, he also set up a recycling program. Once recycled, the gloves are turned into playground equipment, bike racks and park benches.

Henning says the nitrile gloves have been a good fit for his department, both in terms of durability and cost. “Participating in the campus buying program reduces the cost, as [our]...

Ideas and Innovation
elderly old hands

A family’s request for at-home meal support for a patient at Lee Memorial in Fort Myers, Fla., led System Director of Food & Nutrition Services Larry Altier to uncover a gap in care. He saw that only 1% of patients had been coded (diagnosed and labeled for billing purposes) as malnourished, while more than 60% of all Lee Memorial patients are over 65 years or older, a population that experiences the issue at a higher rate.

His discovery helped more rigorously identify malnutrition, but it also strengthened Lee Memorial’s community connection. The hospital launched a delivery...

Ideas and Innovation
nutrition facts label

Despite operators’ attempts to communicate nutrition information to guests via cards and labels on the food line, many guests still feel they have no clue what’s in their food. University of Illinois food economist Brenna Ellison shares a few guesses as to why consumers ignore these signs following a recent study on their placement in dining halls.

Q: Who is most likely to read the cards?

A: Students who were already exhibiting more healthy behaviors. So those were the students who track their intake using an app or a food diary. After the first week, we found the rates of people...

FSD Resources