How to Lead a Menu Renaming Activity with Students For Smarter Lunchrooms Technical Assistance Providers

naming activity

You have completed the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard and have identified goals for improving your cafeteria service. The main areas of concern are to build student involvement, develop creative menu names and to label food offerings on the service line to entice student selection. A great way to accomplish these goals is to host a Menu Renaming Activity with students.

You’ve completed the Smarter Lunchrooms scorecard and identified these goals:

  1. Build student involvement
  2. Develop creative menu names
  3. Label the dishes on the line.

Menu renaming is not only easy, but is fun and generates student buy in.  Here is a step by step guide to accomplish all of those goals in one activity.

  1. Research

What classes or clubs does the school have that have an engaged student body and that work with topics in health or marketing? Is there a health club, marketing class, or student council?

  1. Pitch

Reach out to the advisor or teacher in charge of the student group(s) you want to target, as well as the Principal or Assistant Principal. Explain the goal of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and your goal in their school. Points to cover:

  • What you want to accomplish (rename healthy menu items to make them more appealing)
  • How many students you wish to meet with (8-10)
  • How long the activity will take (15-30 minutes)
  1. Prepare

naming board Review the master menu, highlight the healthiest items you want to focus on renaming. These would be all fruits, vegetables, and entrees that are the most nutrient dense (ex. entrée salad and bean burrito). Write Master titles on the top of each page of a post-it easel, or on a dry erase or chalk board. Grid the items on each page giving enough space for sticky notes. Keep each page simple, with a maximum of 9 items per page not overwhelm wandering minds. I used a post-it easel with a dry erase board on the outside and pages of paper on the inside, it was wonderful! You will also need pens/pencils, and LOTS of sticky notes.

  1. Cheetos

Gather all students at one table so they can share ideas together. Start the session laying the groundwork in behavioral economics. You can ask- “When you see a Cheetos commercial, what do you see and hear? Throw out some words that come to mind” You will probably hear “flaming hot, crunchy, be a daredevil, super cheesy, finger lickin.’” As students call these out, write them down on the board.

  1. Broccoli

Now ask what they see when they watch broccoli commercials * pause * that’s right, there are no broccoli commercials! You can then ask what words come to mind when they think of broccoli. Also write these words down. Briefly discuss the difference in descriptive words between Cheetos and broccoli. Explain how healthy food is constantly being forgotten on TV commercials and, consequently, on our plates.

  1. ACTION!

Disperse sticky notes and pens. Let the brainstorming begin! Working in groups, give students a master menu and ask students’ to rename menu items to reflect their positive characteristics while creating an appetizing name.  Encourage students to start writing down as many names as they can think of. Emphasize that in brainstorming sessions, no idea is dumb, everything has value (just stay appropriate). If ideas start to slow down, try suggesting:

  • Descriptive words: savory, crunchy, crispy, finger lickin’
  • School pride: Mascot, Principal, popular teacher, town name
  • Creative: instead of ‘the colorful salad’ try ‘rainbow confetti bowl’ or ‘veggie confetti’

When the students complete the activity, re-cap the names they came up with and how these are appealing in different ways.  Ensure these names are used on the menu as well as on the serving line. The students will see that they were the catalyst for change. Have fun with the names and in addition to featuring them on the monthly menu online and physically on the lunch lines. To go the extra mile, make up stickers, window clings, or posters highlighting the special items!


Lauren Gabuzzi, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, Cornell University