We all remember what it was like sitting in our childhood classrooms. We’d spend what felt like hours waiting for the lunch bell to ring, representing a quick reprieve from learning and an opportunity to fill our rumbling stomachs.
A well-rounded school lunch program doesn’t just make the learning experience more comfortable and appealing to students, it’s crucial to providing young minds and bodies with the fuels they need to innovate, create, and explore. Across the US, more than 30 million students rely on their school lunch program to give them the energy they need to ace their classes.
Crafting the perfect program isn’t always easy. There are plenty of challenges for administrators to overcome, from figuring out how to promote healthy eating habits to creating a diverse menu that considers every dietary restriction and preference.
Fortunately, Marbled LA is here to help. Here, you’ll receive all the guidance you need to create the perfect school lunch program, with tips and insights from our catering experts.
Why School Lunch Programs Matter
We all need regular, nutritious meals to thrive, but youngsters are often more affected by their diets than most. Research shows a direct link between child nutrition and a young person’s mental and physical health. When children have access to more nutritious food, they have better concentration skills, improved memories, and even benefit from better academic performance.
Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of children worldwide don’t get the food they need as often as they should. The rising cost of living, economic issues, and food insecurity mean some children don’t always have three square meals per day. Others can’t access the healthy food they need at home, leading to higher rates of childhood obesity, and malnutrition.
School lunch programs are a way to tackle these issues. They ensure that every child, no matter their background, can access at least one nutritional meal a day. A school lunch program can encourage children to make healthy choices with their meals, introducing them to foods and ingredients they adore, and shaping their dietary behaviors in the future.
Additionally, the right food choices in your school cafeteria can ensure children have the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need to unlock academic success. Research shows that healthy habits and eating well are closely linked to academic achievement.
On top of that, school lunch programs benefit the wider community. They take pressure off parents and guardians struggling to make ends meet, support local farmers and growers, and help entire economies to thrive. The school lunch is the backbone of a healthy academic landscape.
The Challenges of Creating Amazing School Lunch Programs
Unfortunately, while school lunches have a range of benefits for students and your community, creating the right school meal program can be more complicated than it seems. Every public school administrator and high school cafeteria team has challenges, such as:
- Nutritional concerns: Gaining access to a constant supply of healthy food and fresh produce isn’t always easy. Ensuring every student gets the right blend of minerals and vitamins in their diet can be a complicated feat.
- Budget constraints: With limited government funding and financial resources, many schools are often limited in their choice of nutritional foods. Staying within budgetary guidelines can prompt some schools to prioritize processed food over healthy meals.
- Preferences and dietary restrictions: Children are notoriously picky eaters, each with their own distinct preferences. Plus, many have dietary restrictions to consider, from lactose intolerance to food allergies. All of these factors need to be taken into account.
- Limited participation: An unappealing school cafeteria or menu can prompt some students to avoid school meal programs entirely. This means either they have to source their own meals or go hungry throughout the day.
- Limited resources and equipment: Not every facility in the school district has a restaurant-style kitchen. Limited resources for cooking, baking, and even storing food can make it difficult to create and serve a diverse menu.
To provide the next generation with the nutrition they need and cultivate healthy academic environments, school leaders need some extra help. They need a strategy for creating and distributing healthier school lunches to every student.
How to Improve Your School Lunch Program: 7 Strategies
With so many factors to consider, from nutrition standards to public health guidelines, budget restraints, and student preferences, crafting the perfect school lunch program can seem like an impossible task. Fortunately, we’re here to help with expert tips straight from the catering pros.
Tip 1: Diversify Menu Options
Children get bored quickly. If they get the same ten menu options every day for a whole year, they’re quickly going to get tired of your school lunches. Diversity is the spice of life—and it’s crucial for introducing your students to a variety of different minerals, vitamins, and new nutritional ingredients they might not encounter at home.
Don’t be afraid to shake things up with your menu. Collaborate with your cafeteria managers on seasonal meal ideas or introduce cultural and regional cuisines to expand your students’ horizons. What’s more, make sure you’re catering to the needs of all your students.
That means not just offering vegetarian options but also vegan meals and dishes that cater to food allergies and intolerances, as well as other dietary restrictions. Remember, around 5.6 million children in America under the age of 18 have a food allergy.
Tip 2: Involve Students in the Decision-Making Process
Kids like feeling in control. They want to be able to make their own decisions and pave their own way. If you want to encourage more kids to take advantage of your school lunch program, giving them a say over what kind of meals you include can make a huge difference.
Consider creating a student “food committee” with representatives from every age group, who can share their thoughts on menu ideas, and provide feedback from their group. Send surveys out to your learners, asking them what kind of foods they may want to try, or ask everyone to vote on their favorite meal ideas for the next school season.
You could even create a fun experience for some of your students by creating a “taste test” every few months, where students score ingredients and recipes. This not only makes students feel more empowered, but it also encourages them to make healthier choices. When kids can choose what type of healthy food they eat, they won’t feel like they’re being “forced” into nutritional meals.
Tip 3: Utilize Local and Sustainable Ingredients
We mentioned that a great school lunch program doesn’t just benefit your students, it also has an impact on your wider community. This is particularly true if you concentrate on sourcing products from local farmers and businesses. Consider reaching out to growers in your community and forming relationships with them so you have a constant supply of fresh ingredients.
Not only will this show your students the importance of supporting local businesses, but it also means you have a clear insight into where your food comes from. You can avoid processed foods and those grown with chemicals. Plus, you can create a more environmentally friendly school facility. Your eco-conscious decisions might even rub off on your students.
Another great way to source local ingredients is to encourage your kids to grow vegetables and fruits themselves. Plant a school garden and teach children how to nurture herbs, spices, and popular ingredients. Your students will have fun learning new skills they can take into adulthood, and your school will save money on ingredients.
Tip 4: Enhance Food Presentation and Dining Environment
If you’re struggling to encourage students to participate in your school program, the problem might not be with your food—but how it’s presented.
You don’t necessarily need to plate every meal like an artisan chef. However, food preparation can make a huge difference in how appealing younger children find different meals. Experiment with different colorful ingredients and post illustrated signage around the cafeteria to get mouths watering.
Speaking of the school cafeteria, make sure it’s a comfortable and welcoming place. Ensure children have access to plenty of light and comfortable seats while they’re eating their meals. This will transform the cafeteria from a solely practical place into an environment where kids can build their social skills and connect with friends.
Tip 5: Implement a Nutrition Education Program
How much do your students really know about the dangers of processed food? How much can they tell you about the benefits of different minerals and vitamins in their diet? If you want your students to make healthy choices throughout their lives, you must show them the value of good nutrition.
The good news is that it’s easy to implement “nutrition” into your current school curriculum. You can weave the concepts of nutrition into science classes, showing children how different foods and substances influence the body. Alternatively, you can create a culinary arts program, giving kids hands-on experience cooking their own meals.
You can even incorporate nutritional education into physical education classes, showing your youngsters how certain foods release energy in different ways, to fuel their sporting success.
Tip 6: Streamline Lunch Program Processes
Streamlining your lunch program processes is one of the best ways to take the pressure off your teams and deliver a better experience to students. You can start by implementing an online ordering system or app for parents and students. This could allow kids to plan their meals for the day or even check out which new menu items are coming up.
It also gives you an easy way to accept requests from students who have food allergies or sensitivities you need to be aware of. Plus, you can use technology to track which of your meals and ingredients are most popular. This will help you optimize menu planning and ensure you’re ordering the right ingredients every month.
A little technology can go a long way, making your cafeteria queues shorter, reducing the strain on kitchen staff, and improving the overall experience for your youngsters.
Tip 7: Partner with Marbled LA’s School Catering Services
By far, the easiest way to ensure your school lunch program exceeds expectations is to work with a professional catering company. A dedicated school catering service like Marbled LA can give you all the resources you need to overcome many of the challenges mentioned above.
We cook your food ourselves, so limited resources and equipment are never an issue. Our streamlined and convenient service takes the stress off your menu management team and kitchen staff. Plus, we prioritize healthy, sustainable, and locally sourced ingredients, perfect for nourishing children.
With our help, you can serve your students a diverse menu packed with unique flavors that cater perfectly to younger taste buds. Furthermore, our affordable service can be tailored to match your budget, your nutrition program, and even the dietary restrictions of your students.
Contact Marbled LA today to discover how we can elevate your school lunch program to a new standard, and give your youngsters the nourishment they need.
Upgrade Your School Lunch Program
Crafting the perfect school lunch program can be complicated, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Ensuring your students have access to the right healthy school meals will improve their physical and mental well-being and give them the fuel they need to thrive in the academic setting.
With a few simple steps, such as upgrading your cafeteria, diversifying your menu options, and getting students involved in the decision-making process, you can make a huge difference in the success of your school lunch program.
Plus, if you partner with a catering service like Marbled LA, you can rapidly overcome countless challenges, from budgetary problems to providing youngsters with plenty of variety. Reach out today to find out how we offer a one-stop solution for school lunch success to our clients.