For the past couple of years, the school cafeteria hasn’t been the happiest of places for many districts. With all the changes in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, students and foodservice staff have been challenged with providing foods meeting federal mandates that kids will actually eat. In many districts, the cafeteria has become a battleground.
Provo City School District, in Utah, has implemented a yearly theme program with days devoted to nutrition and physical activity, which builds excitement among students and staff and gets kids engaged in a positive way with foodservice.
How it's done
It all starts with a theme, developed by Jenny Mccomb, child nutrition director, and Colleen Dietz, child nutrition operations, tech support, social media and marketing. This year’s is Fit ‘N Fifties. Past themes have included Jungle Journey Adventures and Moving Into the Future. The two women then come up with specialty days, where foodservice staff and special guests go into the cafeteria during lunchtime. Specialty days are staggered throughout the year, so no two of the district’s 18 schools have a specialty day on the same day. Each school manager also is allowed to pick an additional specialty day, for which she develops her own plan.
“We’re trying to always do things to teach children how to stay healthy,” Mccomb says. “In the news it’s always ‘school lunch is making children fat.’ What we’re trying to do in our district is help everyone understand that it takes activity and eating healthy and being happy and joyful to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s not just one thing.
“We want to ensure that lunchtime is the best time of a child’s day,” Mccomb continues. “Make your program fun. The enthusiasm we have is what makes our program magical.”
For this year’s Fit ‘N Fifties activity day, a professional hula hooper is visiting schools. Following a demonstration of tricks, students can test their skills with hula hoops that are provided. Mccomb also purchased 12 hoops for each school, which can be won by “lucky tray” winners, students who pick a tray that has a sticker on the bottom.
For many activity days, dance is incorporated. Students were taught line dancing for a Wild, Wild West theme. For another, staff members created a video demonstrating choreography for Beyonce’s “Move Your Body.” The videos were sent to the PE teachers so they could teach students during class. On the activity day, district staff were on hand to lead students in the dance.
On nutrition specialty days, Mccomb and Dietz brainstorm ways to creatively teach students. With the help of NutriSlice, students participated in a produce-eating contest for one nutrition day. “On a screen they had all these wonderful things about fresh fruits and vegetables and what they would do for your body and how they were good for you,” Mccomb says. “On that day, whatever the fresh fruit or vegetable that we served, we told all the kids that if they ate all of that item on their tray they would get a point. With our smartphones we were able to mark as the kids raised their hand as having eaten their item. It was the girls against the boys. The contest, the yelling, and the fun… they would eat every bit of their squash, peas or whatever we chose to serve that day.”
It’s students’ enthusiasm that Mccomb says makes the program successful. After the hula hoop day at one school, a second-grader came up to staff crying when it was over because he was having so much fun. “Students will run up to us and say it’s the best day of their entire lives and they’ve never had so much fun,” she says.
And it’s not just students who have gotten into the festivities. School managers also have an unofficial, friendly contest each year, to see who can go all out at their schools. “That’s why this program has caught fire,” Mccomb says.