Foods available via the National School Lunch Program remain an area of national interest. But there is also a movement within the program that is picking up momentum — and it’s proving effective at nudging kids to make healthier choices that include milk and dairy foods.

Called the Smarter Lunchrooms Move-ment, it is based on research from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. The research shows that creative displays, enticing offerings and numerous options result in children making healthy food choices in school lunchrooms.

For the dairy industry, the movement offers opportunity to help more schoolchildren benefit from milk’s irreplaceable package of nutrients.

Along with state agencies and private-sector partners, the Dairy Council of California, Sacramento, is a key player in the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California Collaborative. Which includes more than 150 school districts and 500 staff that have been trained on ways to redesign food displays in their cafeterias with strategies proven to entice kids to choose a variety of foods from all five food groups.

All of Dairy Council of California’s community nutrition advisers have undergone the training and currently advise in 30 schools throughout California. Since being trained on smarter lunchrooms tactics, two high schools in the state that offer both flavored and plain milk saw 40% and 50% increases in milk sales.

In another California school — Ferris Spanger Elementary, Roseville, Calif.— a Dairy Council of California team member assessed a lunchroom using the smarter lunchrooms scorecard, which identifies areas that are doing well and areas of opportunity for improvement. Recommendations were made, including moving milk crates to the start of the lunch line to allow the milk to remain cold, increasing the ratio of plain to flavored milk and placing plain milk in an easy-to-reach location. These simple changes increased the school’s score by 132%. More importantly, changes led to improved healthy food choices by students.

Ferris Spanger Elementary took an additional step by hiring an artist to create a mural depicting food from all five food groups.

Strategies of the movement that benefit the dairy industry and improve the nutrition profile of meals that children select include:

  • Placing milk at every point of sale in the lunchroom. By making milk widely available in every cooler, a healthy norm is created that milk is the natural beverage choice.
  • Making sure plain milk accounts for at least one-third of drinks displayed in each cooler. Convenience counts and students are more likely to drink milk if it is easy to reach.

In 2015, the California collaborative will once again host statewide training in March and April. Training explains the theory behind the movement’s principles and practices and help attendees identify school lunchroom challenges and develop plans to implement changes.  Follow-up training allows participants to share implementation experiences; problem-solve how to engage internal and external stakeholders; and learn about frontline training, implementation resources and ways to measure success.

For Dairy Council of California, leadership in healthy food initiatives like the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement is part of a core strategy to create behavior change and improve healthy food choices, including milk.

Through smarter lunchrooms, students are being nudged to experience healthier food choices. In the classroom, Dairy Council of California nutrition programs educate millions of children and parents by focusing on all five food groups, with milk and milk products as a cornerstone of a healthy diet. These print programs are being augmented by increased use of videos and interactive whiteboards. And through Mobile Dairy Classroom, students are seeing and learning about agriculture and how dairy products get from the farm to their home tables and school cafeterias.

As more foodservice directors, educators and stakeholders learn about and initiate smarter lunchrooms tactics, children benefit from healthier meals and the irreplaceable package of nutrients in milk.

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