What Suggestions Do You Have for Improving Lunch at Your School?

What Suggestions Do You Have for Improving Lunch at Your School?

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If researchers conducted a survey to measure student satisfaction with lunch at your school, what do you think your peers would say? What would you say?

At KairosPDX charter school in Portland, Ore., students recently took part in a “Tasty Challenge” event organized by FoodCorps, a nonprofit organization that connects children to healthy food in schools. The students sampled two recipes that featured butternut squash and voted for the one they liked better. The landslide winner, a soup, may be added to the school menu.

If the same event took place at your school, would butternut squash be received with such enthusiasm? Do you think school leaders would welcome student suggestions about how to improve school lunch if the suggestions promoted healthful eating? How well does your school do with offering meals that are nutritious and popular among students?

FoodCorps has found “a range of ways that schools can make their meals a more pleasant experience.” In “What if Children Ran the School Lunchroom?,” Anahad O’Connor writes:

Nationwide, lifestyle related diseases have taken a toll on children’s health. Roughly one in three kids is overweight or obese, and diabetes is on the rise. Some children get about half their daily calories at school, but many schools struggle to provide nutritious meals that kids will eat: A federal study published last year found high levels of food waste, with more than a quarter of the calories and nutrients produced in elementary school cafeterias going into the garbage.

But making vegetables more appealing is only half the battle. FoodCorps recently commissioned a study that involved interviewing over 400 students, school nutrition workers, teachers and other staff members at nine diverse schools around the country. It found a range of ways that schools can make their meals a more pleasant experience.

Many children lamented the lack of variety and flavor in their meals. They said their meals did not reflect their cultural heritage or what they ate at home and at restaurants. Some students and staff members complained about windowless, cramped cafeterias that felt colorless and depressing, and lunch periods that were too short. In many schools, students had as little as 15 minutes to wait in line, eat their food and catch up with friends. Ultimately the students said they wished they had more control over their cafeteria experience.

The findings prompted FoodCorps to start its “Reimagining School Cafeterias” program, which has several components. One is the “Tasty Challenge,” in which kids try vegetables prepared in different ways and vote on their favorites. Participating schools get a “flavor bar” where students can add special herbs and seasonings to their meals like adobo, hot sauce and garlic. Students also get to provide input to their schools about ways to revamp their cafeterias, such as adding more plants and natural lighting.

As for how FoodCorps has brought change to KairosPDX, Mr. O’Connor writes:

At Kairos, more than half the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch. The school was founded in 2012 with a focus on improving educational outcomes for students of color. Kali Ladd, its co-founder and executive director, said that in the past Kairos’s students wouldn’t touch a vegetable unless it was smothered in ranch dressing or other condiments. “They never wanted to eat vegetables — they would just throw them out,” she said.

But now Kairos has a full time FoodCorps service member, Sophie Rasmussen, and a FoodCorps graduate who became the school’s nutrition and garden coordinator, Graham Schreiber. Together they teach the students how to grow and harvest vegetables in a community garden and use them in recipes. “With the access to the garden we’ve seen a dramatic change in the eating habits of our kids,” said Ms. Ladd. “The first year we had a FoodCorps member, they harvested kale and made a stew with it, and that’s something we would have never seen before. In terms of helping our kids develop healthy eating habits, it’s been wonderful.”

During a recent lunch period at the school, a group of fifth graders sat around a table talking about the butternut squash taste test and describing their favorite garden-inspired school meals, including sweet potato fries and yakisoba noodles with shredded cabbage and carrots. Then they rattled off a list of the crops they were growing: blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, peas, basil and more.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What do you think FoodCorps would learn about your school lunches and overall cafeteria experience if students were given a survey? Why?

  • To what degree is food waste an issue at your school? How much food do you see in the trash cans at the end of lunch period?

  • In the article, Curt Ellis, the group’s co-founder and chief executive officer, suggests that it’s better for students to “discover what they love to eat” instead of adults at their school “telling them what they should eat.” What are your thoughts on this idea? Why do you think Mr. Ellis believes in this approach?

  • What, if anything, in the article resonated with you? Explain.

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.