USDA grants help make lunchrooms smarter

Smarter Lunchrooms strategies help increase the consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste.

New grants worth $5.5 million were announced to support schools as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow.

 

Over 90% of schools are successfully meeting new meal nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. These new grants provide support to schools to help them achieve or continue to meet those standards. The grants focus on implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms strategies, a broad toolkit of easy-to-implement, evidence-based practices designed to increase consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste.

"Schools have worked hard to serve more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains at mealtime. Strategies like Smarter Lunchrooms give schools simple, actionable, low-cost steps that help make sure that the healthy food on kids' plates ends up in their stomachs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These grants are part of USDA's ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources and flexibility they need as they help make the healthy choice, the easy choice for America's young people."

The Smarter Lunchrooms movement applies practical, research-based principles and strategies that have proven effective at creating an environment that encourages kids to make healthy choices. The movement, which was developed by Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center) with funding from the USDA and others, uses environmental cues to increase student selection of healthy meal options and decrease plate waste.

 

These include simple strategies such as structuring choices in the lunch line so that healthy foods are easiest for students to access, having cafeteria staff dialog with students in such a way that nudges them toward healthy items, and creatively naming foods or meals to make them more appealing to children. For example, researchers found that changing the placement of where fruit is displayed in the lunch line led to a doubling of sales. Similarly, creative naming and display of vegetables increased selection by 40 to 70 percent.

 

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