Partnering with Schools on Healthy Food Initiatives: How We’ve Made it Work!


Partnering with schools on wellness and healthy food initiatives can be challenging particularly because every school functions differently. Below are a collections of success stories from individuals who have successfully partnered with schools to create impactful wellness programs.   

Partnering with Teachers for In-School Nutrition Education

Joi Vogin, MS, CNS, LDN, FSNE Project Leader and Nutrition Education, Maryland’s SNAP-Ed program, University of Maryland Extension

In my work to provide nutrition education to elementary school students, my most successful collaborations have started with the classroom teachers. Teachers know how important nutritious food is to student’s growth and development, and what a difference a meal can make in maintaining the classroom environment.

My best classes are those where the teachers participate enthusiastically alongside the students, and then reinforce the lesson concepts every day by role modeling healthy behaviors, talking with their students about eating breakfast and lunch, and asking students what they are eating at home. Teachers are also the best advocates for my nutrition programs, and can speak directly to principals, administrators, and parents about how nutrition concepts work within their curriculum guidelines.

Principals are also an essential part of any school partnership because they provide valuable support for integrating new programs and for reaching the broader school community. Once the principal has approved my program, I schedule a meeting with the teachers to describe the lessons in more detail. During these meetings, I emphasize that my ultimate goal is for us to work together to promote healthier students and create a healthier classroom and a healthier school environment.

In addition to gaining support from teachers and the administration, good communication is essential to successful school collaborations. At the beginning of the school year, I establish program schedules with the teachers and determine who will be my main contacts. There can be testing schedules, weather delays, guest speakers, and field trips that can impact my lessons throughout the school year. It’s also helpful to know what school-wide activities are taking place, as these can be fun and effective ways to reach parents and the larger school community.

Dairy Council of Florida and School Food Service Partnership 

Lori Nelson MS, RD, LD/N, Nutrition Manager, School Health and Wellness, Dairy Council of Florida, a division of Florida Dairy Farmers 

Q.I. Roberts Jr./Sr. High School in Florida has more than doubled participation in school breakfast helping students start the day off right. Milk sales for breakfast tripled. Participation went from 40-60 a day up to 120-140 on average. During the 2015/2016 school year, breakfast participation has increased by 20% as of March, 2016. 

The High School took a pledge for wellness and started the Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) program during the 2013-2014 school year. Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in school nutrition and physical activity program sponsored by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League. It’s free for all schools to participate in and is student led.

During the next two school years, the school earned grant dollars for their Breakfast in the Classroom program. They also earned physical activity equipment for students to use during lunch. Schools earn grant dollars by choosing a healthy eating and physical activity play from the FUTP60 Playbook and writing a plan with the equipment needed. Schools can earn up to $4,000 per school year in grant funding.

Prior to the 2014-2015 school year, the school meal program only served breakfast traditional style in the cafeteria and the older students chose not to mingle with the younger students. Now, older students help to make sure the breakfast is delivered toclassrooms. Through the FUTP60 grant, the school was provided with insulated bags to help transport breakfast to the classrooms. Due to staffing and a large campus, a student from each class transports the bag to the classroom and back.

 This program has allowed food services to increase their meal participation numbers and create a positive experience around school meals. Assistance with Fuel Up to Play 60 can be found through any dairy council. To find your local dairy council, visit

Partnering with School Food Service

Shannon Klisch, MPH, Community Education Supervisor, UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara Counties, Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California

Katherine E. Soule, Ph.D., Youth, Families, & Communities Advisor, San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara Counties, Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California

Find Common Goals: Food service directors have a lot on their plate! Food service is simultaneously business, food distribution, restaurant, and educational setting all rolled into one. Many school food operations provide tens of thousands of meals every day. When you first meet with food service, let them know your goals and ask about theirs. Whether increasing revenue, decreasing food waste, promoting school food, or feeding students safely there is common ground where common goals can be identified.

Partner with Food Services: Whether you are teaching nutrition, math, science or working with student groups to raise money or identify a service project, food service can be an excellent partner. Many food service professionals would like to be more involved with their schools. Often they are only seen in the cafeteria at lunchtime.


Connect nutrition or science lessons to what is served in the cafeteria. If you’re tasting a food in class, ask students if they have seen it on their salad bar. Remind students to be brave and try new things in the cafeteria.

Students can host a “Try-It Tuesday” event. Work with food service to train student leaders in food safety. On a planned day, have the students pass out sample sizes of new foods (or current menu items that students just aren’t eating).

Math is all over the cafeteria, ask food service for a recipe for a favorite food and have students convert it to a size that would feed their family. Ask students to compare a typical sack lunch to the nutrients found in the school meal using the nutrient analysis for lunch menus. Have students complete a “plate waste” study.

Whatever you do, promote it! Food service loves to get positive attention! When you see something great happening, tell people about it. You can write a press release, announce it over the school intercom, put it in the school newsletter, write an Op-ed for a local paper, take pictures and post them in the cafeteria or on social media. The more recognition they receive for their efforts, the more likely food service will be to work with you in the future.