Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, California
Population: 39,536,653 (U.S. Census, 2017)
The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement (SLM) is a school lunch program launched by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (the BEN Center) in collaboration with the California Department of Education. It consists of a grant of up to $13,600 and training in how to increase the consumption of healthy school lunch options. The SLM uses evidence-based, low or no-cost solutions to encourage students to make healthier choices in the lunchroom.
Progress to date:
According to the SLM’s website, over 29,000 schools are now using Smarter Lunchrooms strategies. One campus catering director reported that consumption of vegetables increased 76% after the strategies were adopted.
The program launched in 2009.
Food policy category:
Diet and nutrition
The SLM’s core values include:
The SLM’s strategies are designed to:
How it works:
In order to receive the grant of up to $13,600, interested schools must first apply to officially be part of the program. However, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement shares all 60 of its strategies on its website free of charge, so all schools can take advantage their methods. The strategies are based on research from the fields of psychology, economics, and marketing and are intended to nudge students toward making healthier choices. Many of the SLM’s strategies boost healthy food consumption by simply make fruits and vegetables more visible and attractive. Below are some examples of the strategies suggested by the SLM.
Focus on the Fruit
Vary the Vegetables
Highlight the Salad
Move More White Milk
Boost Reimbursable Meals
School Community Involvement
Why it is important:
Obesity has been on the rise in the United States for the last several decades. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in 1971-1974, only 5% of American children were considered obese. Today, that number has more than tripled to around 17%.
Overweight and obese children can suffer from a number of psychological as well as physiological conditions related to their unhealthy weight. These include low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression as well as type 2 diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and sleep apnea. Obese children are also more likely to be obese as adults, which puts them at risk of other critical conditions such as stroke, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer.
Children begin to have more autonomy over their food choices as they enter school. These formative years play a major role in determining the dietary decisions that children will make as they mature into adolescence and adulthood. A study from Pennsylvania State University shows that children’s food preferences are shaped by the availability, accessibility, and familiarity of foods. Healthy modeling along with early exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables can play a significant role in establishing healthy eating habits.
The SLM provides scorecards for schools to evaluate their progress.
Point of Contact:
California Nutrition Services
Awareness about the importance of healthy school lunches has grown around the world in recent years. Programs designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in schools have been introduced in Slovenia, Sweden, and Japan.