LAUSD Improves Child Diets with Smarter Lunchrooms

LAUSD Improves Child Diets With Smarter Lunchrooms

Fri 21 Nov 2014

Story by The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation (USA)

Here are the facts: one out of three American children is overweight or obese. About 80% of teenagers (12-18) do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Each year, the United States spends approximately $150 million dollars on medical costs related to obesity. If we hope that today’s young generations will have a bright and successful future, it’s clear we need to make some immediate real changes to food education and children’s eating habits.

And this is precisely what the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is all about. With the help of the Los Angeles County Department of Health and the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), LAUSD put the principles of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement into practice during the 2013-2014 school year. Not only did the new practices help schools cut cafeteria line wait times in half, but they also showed significant improvement in children’s healthy food choices.

Before testing the Smarter Lunchrooms guidelines, the LAUSD was already on its way to implement feasible and effective changes to their food standards. In 2012, the District eliminated flavored milk, chicken nuggets and other longtime favorites among children. Once Smarter Lunchrooms came into the picture, these changes became even more powerful, as kids developed the skills to lead a more healthful life.

Since 2009, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement has been providing lunchrooms across the U.S. with the tools to improve children’s eating behaviors and their long-term health. This grassroots initiative is based on the research by Cornell University Professors Brian Wansink and David Just, coordinators of Cornell’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. The Center is devoted to research in child health, school environments and their relation to the behavioral sciences.

Smarter Lunchrooms then applies the research-based principles developed in the lab to guide children to select a consume a healthier, more balanced diet. Even more, the movement recognizes that, oftentimes, what hinders lunchrooms from offering more healthful options is a lack of 1) education and 2) resources. For this reason, it promotes low- to no-cost changes to the lunchroom that encourage students to make smarter choices.

Today, more than 300 school districts in California have been trained on the guidelines set up the initiative, many of which are part of the LAUSD. East Valley High School, for example, is one of LAUSD’s greatest success stories: it saw a 15% increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables since implementing these changes.

To guide school administrations looking to make their lunchrooms follow healthier standards, Smarter Lunchrooms has created a set of Best Practices that offer research-based suggestions on how to motivate children to choose healthier options. Recommendations include moving salad bar to the center of the cafeteria; placing white milk and water at eye level, in front of sugary drinks; presenting fruit in nicely decorated bowls and hence make them more appealing; and giving fun, creative names to vegetables.

In addition to these Best Practices, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement also makes a number of resources available on their website, so that parents, teachers and school administrators alike may benefit from the guiding principles and make positive changes to their communities.

Among these resources you will find Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment, a checklist that can help determine a lunchroom’s standards compared to those suggested by the movement and that points out areas of opportunity for future improvements. LAUSD schools used this self-assessment scorecard as their starting point to tailor Smarter Lunchroom strategies to each school environment.

A series of food education webinars are available as well, ranging from topics such as school gardens to nutrition lessons. By registering in the website (free of charge!), you can develop your own action plan to contribute to the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.

The pioneering efforts of the LAUSD to improve child eating across the region did not go unnoticed by the rest of the country. In fact, many of the lessons learned by school administrators in the LA area were then implemented in new nutrition standards adopted by USDA in 2012 and 2013.

Jamie Oliver Food Foundation


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