5 Ideas to Connect the Cafeteria to the Classroom

15 Aug 5 Ideas to Connect the Cafeteria to the Classroom

The more kids are bombarded with messages for healthy eating, the more likely the ideas are to stick. One recent study explains that a “flavor window” lasts from four to six months of age. The flavor window offers the optimal time to introduce a variety of vegetables and set patterns for lifelong healthy habits for those vegetables as well as a willingness to try new ones.

For those who missed the flavor window or found it glued shut from the onset, the key to getting kids to eat healthy foods comes from persistence and exposure. Schools, parents, and all caretakers must band together and stand united with messages and modeling that encourage fresh, nutritious food choices.

At school this means when fresh green beans cooked to perfection are served on the menu, the morning announcement tells students that green beans originated in Central America more than 5,000 years ago, students then study the parts of a green bean plant in biology and the number of beans per plant in math, and they go to the school garden to plant corn for a natural bean trellis. The student tastes fresh beans in home economics, not just green, but yellow and purple too. Art of vegetables hang in the hallways. They take home recipes and share their learning with family. The parents might come to the school for cooking classes or join their students on a field trip to a local farm.

It’s not just about being healthy. It’s about being our best selves in a world that desperately needs brains to tackle complex solutions and compassion to find a way forward. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research demonstrates the link between healthy eating and student success in academic settings allowing schools to meet their educational goals and improve test scores and attendance rates.

To inspire your creative juices and set you on the path of integrating the cafeteria into the fabric of school life, here are five examples from our work across the country:

  • An inner-city public Buffalo school started a program where seven 7th grade students worked in the cafeteria kitchen to work 45 minutes a day for a semester. The students became a strong team that by the end of their term was able to cut 400 orders of chicken fingers and hand bread them in 45 minutes. If a student began falling in their classwork, they would not be allowed to work in the kitchen which inspired the students to maintain the required GPA. Students who had to get their grades back up did so way faster than the school leadership ever imagined.
  • A private school in Pennsylvania put their garden in the front yard of the school whereby everyone who entered the school would see the garden. Once the cafeteria began using food from the garden in the cafeteria and students were informed of how the garden produce was being used in the menu, participation climbed faster than ever before with kids excited to eat the food grown on their property.
  • At a school in Illinois, teams of students competed in a cooking event with professional community chefs as the judges. The recipe from the winning team was put on the menu. The student created menu garnered support from the community attending the event and attracted the attention of the press.
  • We started project based learning at a private and public school in Buffalo NY and the students’ consumption of vegetables increased significantly. A hydroponic and aquaponics system were put into the art and science rooms and the kids were charged with taking care of the fish, turtles, and vegetables generating much excitement from the kids and their parents. The teachers who were reluctant at first to let the garden education into their classrooms ended up embracing it.
  • In Hawaii the garden teacher led the students in harvesting bananas from their farm that they then peeled and froze, later using the bananas with coconut milk to make ice cream. The activity connected kids to the land and the bananas they grew.

Got an innovative way to connect kids to the cafeteria? We’d love to hear!

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