Increase the Number of Students that Select Reimbursable Meals

During a busy lunch period, time is students’ most valuable commodity and they will often grab a snack or skip lunch altogether rather than wait in a long line for a full meal, even when they are hungry!  Worse, over 70% of students surveyed said long lines were a problem at their school!  Hungry, time-pressed students are more likely to order foods that take little time to serve/take.  Use this “how to” sheet to give healthy reimbursable meals and snacks an advantage—and improve National School Lunch Program (NSLP) participation too. 

  1. Convert one line or window to healthy-items-only service.  Stock with a variety of snacks and entrée options, with the focus on being as quick-service (grab-and-go) as possiblle
  • Entrées: offer sandwiches/subs, prepackaged salads, yogurt parfaits (yogurt with fruit and nuts), and bagged lunches. Also, offer the lowest-fat/lowest-sodium entrée if possible (temperature rules may or may not allow this, depending on your lunchroom facilities)
  • Drinks: milk, juice, and water
  • Snacks/Sides: finger-food sides (raw veggie packs, whole fruits, and/or sliced fruits in bags or cups)
  1. Advertise!  Create an attractive, brightly-colored sign about the line or window
  • Emphasize the time savings: “Short on time? Pick this line!  Sandwiches and salads are Grab-and-Go!”
  • Emphasize that students can get full reimbursable meals at the window
  • Important note: Do not use the word “healthy” in your sign – curiously, our research has shown that giving a food the title “healthy” actually decreases its sales.  Better options are “Fresh Bites,” “Fresh Express,” “Fast & Fresh,” etc.
  1. Offer less-healthy snacks in regular lines only
  • Cover ice cream freezer with paper (no transparent top)
  • Place snacks on a rack behind the counter or on the back wall, where students must ask for them
  • Offer snacks only after meal service is finished
  • Instead of offering deals that encourage students to buy many snacks (for example, a 3-for-$1 cookie discount), “bundle” indulgent snacks with healthy partner foods (for example, a one-cookie-and-milk discount)


Katherine Baildon- Cornell Center For Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs

For More Information 

Check out this free for credit course offered by the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement


 “Create a healthy-items-only convenience….” Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs’ Smarter Lunchroom Movement

Printable Version