Nutrition Environment and Services provides an opportunity for students to learn about and develop healthy nutrition skills and behaviors. It also serves as an important social setting for students and is another opportunity for schools to create a safe and supportive environment. Sometimes climate efforts do not take the unique context of the cafeteria into consideration or involve food service workers. Students may spend time in the cafeteria eating breakfast, lunch and even supper programs throughout the day.
Include food service workers on planning and governance teams such as School Health Advisory Council or Climate Team.
Extend positive behavior supports and expectations into the cafeteria space. Ensure that cafeteria rules are clearly posted and provide additional adult support to model expectations, help guide student interactions and reward positive behavior.
Ensure that nutrition service and custodial staff receive training and professional development on mental health awareness and school policies/protocols when a student displays troubling behaviors or otherwise indicates a need for support.
Adapt the physical environment of the cafeteria to create a welcoming environment. Use smaller seating areas, round tables, wall art or murals to create a welcoming environment for students.
National Education Association, Food Services ESPs and Bullying Prevention. Provides bullying prevention tips for food service workers.
Comfortable Cafeteria: Annotated Bibliography. This resource provides links to articles and tools to create a positive cafeteria environment.
No One Eats Alone, an initiative from Beyond Differences is a student-led lunchtime event that occurs every year in February. It encourages schools and students to be more inclusive during lunchtime.
Creating Inviting Cafeteria Spaces
Cleta Long, School Nutrition Director for Dade County Schools in Georgia has helped create inviting and inspiring cafeteria spaces in over 30 schools in various school districts. The traditional cafeteria setting, rows of long tables, can become a point of anxiety and apprehension for some students. “Often students tell me they are afraid to go into the cafeteria, that there are too many kids or that it is too loud. We want to create a space where students feel comfortable and actually look forward to spending time. I’ve worked with architects on new school builds, as well as with existing cafeteria spaces to introduce thematic designs or just bring in some new seating arrangements with minimal cost.”
Cleta involves students in the design process and works with an interior designer to carry out the vision. In most cafeteria designs, she brings in booths or smaller round tables so students can have smaller group conversations and not yell down the table to their friends. “I always ask administrators if they notice any changes after a redesigned cafeteria and the most common response is that there is a noticeable decrease in noise level.”
Changing the physical cafeteria environment helps create another supportive space for students to relax, connect with peers and fuel their bodies. As School Nutrition Director, Cleta also justifies a re-design because it helps build participation in school lunches, since students actually want to spend time in the cafeteria and are more likely to eat.
“It is important to emphasize that re-vamping the cafeteria does not have to be a costly thing. Just bringing in some posters or murals and re-arranging seating can have a huge impact on the cafeteria environment.”
To see an example of an inviting cafeteria space, click here.
For more information, contact Cleta Long, School Nutrition Director, Dade County Schools firstname.lastname@example.org