Lunchrooms operate within a school community comprised of thousands of interconnected stakeholders: school and district employees, students and their families, business and community leaders…the list goes on. These groups can all be valuable partners in your work in the lunchroom, and each group’s concerns and resources impact how they are likely to contribute to your initiatives. By approaching each group in a way that appreciates their perspective, you can make the most of each stakeholder’s willingness to help. You can also help schools increase their scores on the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard—for more information on how partnerships impact Scorecard items, access the tips sheets linked on the Smarter Lunchrooms partnership resources page.
As the lunchroom’s target customer base, students make up one of the most valuable stakeholder groups to engage in work in the lunchroom. Students of all ages are creative, enthusiastic, and love to see their work and their peers’ work on display. Invite art and photography teachers to collaborate with you to develop decorative and functional student art for the lunchroom that is representative of the student body. This can include posters and menu boards. Highlight the school motto or theme, foods from different cultures, and the communal nature of the lunchroom. Possible project ideas include a still-life featuring Harvest of the Month produce items, a photo portfolio of a farmers’ market, and portraits of lunchroom staff holding their favorite foods. Engaging students in lunchroom efforts can increase students’ interest in the lunchroom, school lunch, and specific food items.
A mural project is a dramatic, impactful, artistic way to incorporate students’ interests and values into the shared lunchroom space. Collaborate with the art teacher, particularly if the district offers Advanced Placement (AP) art. (Elementary and middle school art teachers can refer you to the high school AP art teacher, enabling a multi-age collaboration for creating technically advanced art in the lower schools.) Murals should be colorful, bright, and age-appropriate, and can focus on topics such as nutrition, school spirit, students’ cultures, or local foods and produce. Remember that all spaces and walls can become a canvas: besides large wall spaces, students can create murals in smaller areas such as hallways and also incorporate windows and doors into their design. Students can participate on many levels, including design (perhaps through a school contest), creating the actual artwork, and fundraising to pay for supplies or the assistance of a professional artist. In all case, students receive an opportunity to engage in a high-level, real-world project that can beautify their school and showcase their point of view for years to come.
Students can also be engaged by forming a SNAC, or Student Nutrition Action Committee. Within the committee, teens are able to share their input on the lunchroom and school lunch. They can maintain a social media presence for local Smarter Lunchrooms projects and be lunchroom spokespersons to the school newspaper. SNAC members may also create catchy names for food items, design signage and menus, and fundraise for lunchroom needs. Through participation in a SNAC, students gain representation in lunchroom decision-making, as well as work, service, and leadership experience, all while learning more about nutrition. Contact the school’s student government, National Honor Society, service organizations, art and AV clubs, and teachers or guidance counselors about recruitment.
Teachers are also key stakeholders whose perspective has great impact on students’ perception of the lunchroom and school food. Collaborate with them to incorporate Smarter Lunchrooms initiatives into learning activities that are meaningful to students, bring positive publicity to schools, and are supported by administrators. In photography, visual media, and graphic design classes, teachers can introduce class projects involving art in and out of the lunchroom, as well as the promotion of target food items and events such as taste tests. Teachers of core subjects, such as science, math, social studies, nutrition and wellness, can lead the class in creating taste tests, surveys and focus groups. Multi-step projects can even be shared between classes or disciplines. For example, taste tests can be broken down into advertisement, development, data collection, calculating results, and sharing results. Additionally, students interested in completing independent study or a graduation service requirement can work with teachers to design collaborative projects with the lunchroom related to tray waste and sustainability, outreach to students in other schools, and more.
Other members of the wider school community, such as parents and community leaders, are also valuable stakeholders. Parents can be fantastic sources of creativity, volunteer hours, funding, and connections to community groups. Contact the president of each school’s parent organization to establish a relationship and ask to speak at a future meeting. Research their goals as an organization so you can point out how improving the lunchrooms aligns with the work they are already supporting. When contacting leaders of community organizations, keep in mind that they each have different support capabilities, so it is important to discuss what a successful relationship with each group might entail. For example, service organizations may offer volunteer hours or fundraising, whereas farmers markets might provide fresh produce or chefs for taste tests or offer to host a nutrition education field trip. Businesses can often provide financial support and supplies such as art supplies or lunchroom equipment. Regardless of who your partners are, always remember to thank them publicly and in person for all they do! More information and tips sheets for each group are available within the resource page.
Use these tips to make the most of your partnerships with stakeholders throughout the school community. Everyone can make important contributions to help the lunchrooms support happy, healthy kids and a positive, welcoming lunchroom environment.
Katie Kuhl, Social Media Coordinator, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office
Erin Sharp, Curriculum Designer, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office