The Latest Research in Improving School Meals

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Juliana Cohen, Research Associate in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health

Juliana Cohen, Research Associate in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, is passionate about school nutrition. With 30.7 million children relying on school meals every day, and 70% of these children dependent on these meals for half of their energy intake, Cohen is interested in helping to improve the diet for such a vulnerable population.

Cohen has been involved with a variety of school-based nutrition interventions. In one study, Cohen and colleagues found that the healthier USDA school meal standards improved students’ diets in contrast to popular belief. Another study just published in March looked at the short- and long-term Effects of Choice Architecture and Chef-Enhanced Meals on the Selection and Consumption of Healthier School Foods. Choice architecture involves methods to adjust the food environment to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices. This study, in partnership with Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program, was performed in 14 elementary and middle schools in 2 low-income school districts in the 2011-2012 school year.

Cohen noted some highlights from the study:

  • Choice architecture is a great way for schools to start promoting healthier food choices. However, to get students to eat more healthy foods and to reduce place waste in the long-term, there needs to be a focus on the palatability of foods.
  • Chefs can help to increase food palatability and train and introduce new ideas to current school staff. Having a chef is not necessarily expensive- they can help schools to control costs such as through inventory control and more efficient use of foods. Schools can also partner with each other to share the cost of a chef.
  • Change takes time. Children may need 10 or more exposures to healthy foods before enjoying them, so schools should not abandon healthier foods.

Learn more about this study from the abstract and from this Inside School Food interview with Juliana Cohen and Chef Nick Speros from Project Bread. In addition, Cohen recently presented findings from this study and her research at The Culinary Institute of America’s 2015 Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids National Leadership Summit: Increasing Produce Consumption: The Evidence for Chefs and Flavor.

Potential areas of future research in school nutrition include interventions at the high school level and higher income communities. Other research that Cohen is currently involved with includes looking at the impact of the Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages, and how healthier competitive foods may impact students’ overall diets in middle and high schools.

View some of the other school nutrition research that Cohen has done. For more on chefs and schools, read our blog post, Chefs Move to Schools with NFSMI, and visit our Chefs in Schools page in the JSI Resource Center.

2015 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit: Day Two

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit is a yearly conference promoting healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs, and is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

On day two of the summit, Chef Tim Reardon from Chobani demonstrated Innovative Culinary Uses for Greek Yogurt. There are many delicious and healthy ways to incorporate yogurt into savory foods. Greek yogurt can be used as a substitute for sour cream, heavy cream, oil, and butter. Yogurt can also be used in salad dressings, dipping sauces, and marinades. In his presentation, Chef Tim showed the audience how to make a Chobani Ranch Dressing/Dipping Sauce, hummus, Mac n’ Cheese, and Green Monster Smoothie.

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Chef Jake Briere (left) and Chef Tim Reardon (right) from Chobani Foodservice

Chobani Green Monster Smoothie

Chobani Green Monster Smoothie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Massachusetts School Breakfast Champion Schools, who served at least 20% of their students breakfast and increased their average daily participation by 35% from October 2012-2014, were recognized at the summit. Congratulations!

MA School Breakfast Champion Schools

Massachusetts School Breakfast Champion Schools

Breakout sessions at the summit continued in three topic areas: Continuous Quality Improvement, Resource Management, and Promotion and Marketing.

At lunch, Adam Brumberg, Deputy Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, presented his keynote on Nudge Marketing. Brumberg addressed different factors that can influence our perception of what we eat and drink. For instance, individuals tend to serve themselves more food when they are given a bigger plate versus a smaller plate, and children prefer more variety on their plates. Ways to encourage children to eat more healthy foods include increasing the variety and colors of healthy foods on their plate. Employing Smarter Lunchrooms techniques can also encourage children to eat more healthy foods in schools. For example, giving foods attractive names can encourage their consumption. Describing carrots as x-ray-vision carrots was found to double their consumption by students.

Adam Brumberg

Increasing Your Program’s Bottom Line breakout session with Adam Brumberg

At the conference, participants created an action plan, to take lessons that they learned from the summit back to their schools and/or districts. This involved identifying actions to take, who needs to be involved, supports needed, barriers to overcome, and how to recognize success.

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit was an inspiring two days filled with great speakers, sharing of information and resources, and new ideas for attendees to bring back to their schools. Visit the 2015 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs page for presentation files from the summit, and view more photos from the conference on our Pinterest board. Find professional development offered by JSI here and resources for your school in the JSI Resource Center.

2015 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit: Day One

Greetings from Mitchell D. Chester

Greetings from Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester

On May 20, school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers from Massachusetts gathered for day one of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit at Four Points by Sheraton, Norwood. This annual conference promotes healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs, and is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

The conference began with a welcome from Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Energizing with Boks

The summit mornings also started with energizing activities with BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success), a program that encourages movement in children to enhance learning.

Scott Noyes

Communicating with Confidence and Clarity with Scott Noyes

Scott Noyes from Empowering Programs gave the morning keynote, Communicating with Confidence and Clarity. Noyes provided many tips on how to effectively communicate in the workplace. For example, body language plays a large role in how messages are conveyed. According to Noyes, the intent of our words is 10% word choice, 30% tone of voice, and 60% body language. Noyes provided more in-depth education on how to create a positive work environment and how to communicate with and motivate staff was provided in the Continuous Quality Improvement track.

Dr. Robert Murray, Professor of Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University, provided the lunch keynote on The Learning Connection. Dr. Murray discussed how stress, exercise, and diet affect brain development and academic performance. Participants learned that a good diet can increase the number of brain cells, and help the brain to make stronger and faster connections. Meanwhile, exercise can help to improve memory, cognition, and executive function.

Dr. Robert Murray

The Learning Connection with Dr. Robert Murray

The day wrapped up with additional breakout sessions in the areas of Continuous Quality Improvement, Resource Management, and Promotion and Marketing. Visit the 2015 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs page for presentation files from the summit, and view more photos from the conference on our Pinterest board. Stay tuned for highlights from day two of the conference!

Smarter Lunchrooms in Massachusetts

In association with a Team Nutrition grant, JSI has partnered with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, to provide Smarter Lunchrooms trainings, technical assistance, and support to Massachusetts schools. From this partnership, school nutrition directors and managers will learn how to identify and create strategies to increase the amount of nutrient-dense foods that students consume in their lunchrooms.

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement incorporates simple, low-cost and no-cost changes to the school meal environment, encouraging students to take and eat more nutritious foods. Six principles of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement include:Salad bar at Bellingham Middle School, MA copy

  1. Manage portion sizes. For example, use smaller containers and plates.
  2. Increase convenience of healthy foods.
  3. Improve visibility of nutritious foods.
  4. Enhance taste expectations, such as by giving food items creative names.
  5. Utilize suggestive selling, including giving cues for positive communication.
  6. Set smart pricing strategies. Healthy food “bundles” can encourage nutritious choices.

To evaluate your lunchroom, the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard can be used to see where you are doing well and to identify areas for improvement. From this collaboration, school nutrition directors and managers will create 10 areas to improve their school lunchrooms, with at least one goal in each of the six focus areas: focusing on fruit, promoting vegetables and salad, moving more white milk, entree of the day, increased sales/reimbursable meals, and creating school synergies. Sales and participation of the school meal program will be assessed before and after the goals are implemented.

Smarter Lunchrooms trainings, technical assistance, and support will be provided from May 2015 – June 2016, reaching 50 schools in Massachusetts.

For more about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, visit the Smarter Lunchrooms page in the JSI Resource Center.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit: May 20 Highlights

Join school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers from across the Commonwealth at the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit on May 20 and 21. This conference promotes healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs, and is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

The morning of May 20th will begin with greetings from Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Scott Noyes will then present the morning keynote, Communicating with Confidence and Clarity. Noyes will build off of his keynote throughout the day in Continuous Quality Improvement sessions, addressing how to motivate employees, create a positive workplace culture, and conflict management. Noyes has been professionally working, playing, writing and talking about children for thirty years. He is the founder of Empowering Programs, whose goal is to support adults who enjoy playing and working with children.

Keynote Speakers

May 20 keynote speakers: Scott Noyes (left) and Dr. Robert Murray (right)

At lunch, Dr. Robert Murray will present the lunch keynote, The Learning Connection, sponsored by the New England Dairy and Food Council. Dr. Murray will address the impact of healthy eating, food security, and physical activity on the developing brain in children and the connection with academic success. Dr. Murray is a Professor of Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University.

Stay tuned to the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit page for the presentation files!

In addition to the keynote addresses, advanced learning will be provided in three learning tracks at the conference:

  • Resource Management
  • Continuous Quality Improvement
  • Promotion and Marketing

The 2015 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit will be held at Four Points by Sheraton, Norwood. Learn more about the conference from the JSI website and the brochure.

Back to Basics Workshops to Go

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Learn more about our Back to Basics Workshops to Go:

Whole Grains: Links to workshop resources

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits: Links to workshop resources

Meat Alternates: Links to workshop resources

Meats, Poultry & Fish: Links to workshop resources

Expanding School Breakfast

There are many benefits to school breakfast, including preventing obesity and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. To encourage school breakfast, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has awarded USDA School Breakfast Expansion grants to school districts in Mass. for 2015, including: Brockton, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Medford, Peabody, Salem, SEEM Collaborative, Taunton, and Wareham. School districts are eligible if 40% or more of lunches served to students are free or reduced price. The expansion grant helps schools to improve and implement school breakfast models that incorporate the USDA meal plan requirements for School Breakfast Programs (SBPs) and increase participation in the SBP.

The John Stalker Institute is assisting with providing professional development for school districts awarded this grant. Through the professional development workshops, school nutrition staff learn:

In the workshop, school nutrition staff participate in a hands-on breakfast food demo, including discussion on how to develop a breakfast menu, and how to prepare healthy hot and cold breakfasts.

Breakfast

Ways to increase awareness about school breakfast programs include:

  • Attending school open houses
  • Sending home or e-mailing informational flyers or letters
  • Posting menus online
  • Hosting a parent breakfast

Congratulations to the schools who were awarded a School Breakfast Expansion grant!

To learn more about school breakfast, see our previous posts on school breakfast and visit our School Breakfast page in the JSI Resource Center.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit: Smarter Lunchrooms

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit is coming up on May 20 & 21, 2015! This conference is geared towards school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers, and promotes healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs. The summit will be held at Four Points by Sheraton, Norwood and is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

Adam Brumberg

Adam Brumberg

On May 21, Adam Brumberg will provide the lunch keynote on how to promote your school nutrition program, Nudge Marketing. Brumberg is a Research Specialist in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and the Deputy Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He also coordinates research run by the Food and Brand Lab and the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Childhood Nutrition Programs (the BEN Center). Brumberg received his B.S. in Marketing and Food Industry Management from Cornell University in 2009.

At the conference, there will be three learning tracks: Resource Management, Continuous Quality Improvement, and Promotion and Marketing. The Promotion and Marketing track will cover how to increase your participation and enhance your program by using promotion and marketing techniques that will capture students and make your program shine. Promotion and marketing strategies include using Smarter Lunchrooms techniques. The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement began with the BEN Center in 2009, with a goal to equip school lunchrooms with evidence-based tools that improve child eating behaviors and the health of children. In the Promotion and Marketing track, Brumberg will build off of his keynote address, discussing the important topic of how to increase your program’s bottom line.

More information about the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit can be found on the JSI website and in the brochure. Find additional resources on Smarter Lunchrooms in the JSI Resource Center.

Chefs Move to Schools with NFSMI

On Thursday, April 2, chefs and school nutrition staff learned about the Chefs Move to Schools movement in a webinar with Chef Jason Morse of NFSMI. The Chefs Move to Schools initiative involves creating partnerships between chefs and schools. Studies have found that involving professional chefs with school meal programs can promote the consumption of healthy foods by students.

Several Keys to Success for a chefs in schools program include:

  • Support
  • Collaboration
  • Mentoring and educating

In the webinar, Chef Morse provided many suggestions for chefs entering a new school system:

  • Hold hands-on bootcamps for the school nutrition staff
  • Understand the school nutrition staff’s daily responsibilities and challenges
  • Learn about the school foodservice model, including the school nutrition regulations and standards
  • Provide new ideas, such as new recipes
  • Think outside the box for how to use USDA Foods. For example, sun butter is nut free and is delicious in granola bars.
  • Be able to lead and inspire children of all grade levels
Chefs Move to Schools

Visit the Chefs Move to Schools website at www.chefsmovetoschools.org

Events and competitions can help to promote your chef and school meal program, such as:

These are just some ideas to get you started. If you are interested in learning more, visit our Chefs in Schools page in the JSI Resource Center for additional resources.