Students Market Oatmeal and Boost School Meal Participation

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The Smarter Lunchroom Movement applies research based techniques to improve student eating behaviors. It  identifies six principles which can influence eating behaviors when applied: 1) Managing portion sizes, 2) Increasing convenience, 3) Improving visibility; 4) Enhancing taste expectations, 5) Utilizing suggestive selling, and 6) Setting smart pricing strategies.  

For the past four years, Michigan schools have been applying these principles in order to increase school meal participation and healthier food sales.  One such school is Ealy Elementary School in Whitehall, Michigan.  As part of a Fuel Up to Play60 Project, Food Service Director, Dan Gorman empowered students at Ealy Elementary to come up with a strategy to promote Oatmeal. This approach falls under the “suggestive selling” principle because it relies on the group to influence purchasing behavior – in this case eating oatmeal.

Once students were given the assignment they came up with a brilliant promotion idea called “Oatmeal-licious.” Based on NFL football teams’ colors and team letter, students created and named topping ideas for oatmeal. For example, the Blueberry Lions Oatmeal includes blueberries placed in the shape of an L on top of each serving of oatmeal. In the cafeteria, students pick up oatmeal on the serving line and proceed to the toppings stand where they receive the special topping and a football sticker. In addition to creating the topping themes, students running the program are in charge of setting up the toppings stand, tracking sales, and collecting students’ votes of favorite toppings. This student-led program and peer-to-peer marketing increased school meal participation by 75 percent! The program has generated so much enthusiasm that students look forward to “Oatmeal Friday”—it’s become part of the school culture.

The “Oatmeal-licious” program is just one example of how Director Gorman and his team encourage students to take the lead on projects to help improve the school nutrition environment and create student ownership. Renae Tindall, Ealy Elementary teacher, says that student buy-in is important to program success—and one way to get buy-in is for staff to allow students to ask their peers what changes they want, and then allow students to run with the ideas.

For more information, contact Dan Gorman, Food Service Director, Whitehall District Schools, Michigan: or view the “Oatmeal Friday” video featuring students from Ealy Elementary school, Whitehall District Schools, Michigan: 

For more resources for featuring fresh vegetables click here!


Nicholas Drzal, RD, MPH, Michigan Department of Education