Rachelle's Blog from Helena: Creating Smarter Lunchrooms in Helena Public Schools

     In addition to expanding food access with Breakfast in the Classroom, I have partnered with our county’s SNAP educator and the Office of Public Instruction to make our lunchroom environments more conducive to healthy choices. Cornell University in Ithaca, New York has designed the ‘Smarter Lunchrooms Movement,’ which is basically research that suggests that small changes in the lunchroom in order to increase the visibility, accessibility, and convenience of healthier options will prompt more students to select them more often, without eliminating the unhealthier options as a choice. This has proven to be an effective strategy nationwide, and something that we are trying to implement in Helena Public Schools.

     We began at Broadwater Elementary School, where the SNAP educator Kim Lloyd, the food service staff, and I conducted a lunchroom evaluation and filled out the ‘Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard’ to identify areas of potential improvement. We then sat down with the Principal and determined which changes seemed to be the most feasible and would have the most impact. We determined that we want to focus on fruit and vegetable intake, so we designed a study in which we did two control observations, and tracked the number of students that took fruit or vegetables with their entrée. For the next two observations, we are going to have ‘peer advocates’ which will be student council members who stand by the salad bar, and encourage their peers to take from it. We will track this as well. Then for the final two observations, we are going to change the flow of the lunchroom to put the salad bar in a place that is more optimal for foot traffic, and again record the number of students that take fruits and vegetables. We are hoping to discover the most effective strategies for prompting kids to eat healthy school lunches! The results are soon to come!

     Broadwater students are also getting more involved in the well-being of their school communities by creating promotional posters for healthier options, making announcements to highlight fruits and vegetables, and being nutritional role models. We hope this process will align with the philosophy that social change starts on a ground level, and peer-to-peer advocacy is the most effective way to make the healthiest option the most popular.