Focus on the Cafeteria

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I attended an interesting focus group today probing 7th graders about what they think of the "school cafeteria". Such a curious age group. They really work in absolutes i.e. "I want to know what's good for me and what's bad.. don't care about the why". Anyway I digress. I think a little background is in order.

As you know I am working with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to help implement three landmark nutrition policies designed to improve the school nutrition environment and ultimately the health of the students. One of these policies is called "The Cafeteria Improvement Motion", title being self-explanatory. An intent of this particular policy is to improve the image of the cafeteria. Not an easy task. Thus LAUSD has partnered with UCLA's Anderson School of Business to come up with a realistic marketing plan that will boost the "cool" factor of the cafeteria.

To this end UCLA business students have been conducting focus groups with the pre-teens in an effort to uncover what would it take to get them to eat in the cafeteria. Obviously the quality of the food is a major factor, but put that thought aside for a second and think aesthetics and atmosphere. Do you remember your school cafeteria? Was it colorful and bright or drab and dreary? Unfortunately, many are drab and dreary, not exactly a place you'd flock to, right?

And this is what's coming out in these focus groups. The kids want to see bright colors, pictures on the walls. They also want to hear music. In the age of the iPod it's hard for the lunchroom to compete. So why not join, crank on some music when the kid are eating? Is that a novel idea? The kids I heard today just lit up when they talked about listening to music in the cafeteria.

This does sound like a simple solution and it may be. Everything is simple until you start looking into making it happen. Some questions I would have are what kind of music will appeal to all the kids and also be appropriate for a school setting (there's so much potential to be uncool with the wrong tunes)? what kind of equipment would need to be purchased? how much would it cost? etc.

But this may very well be a viable option. We'll have to wait and see what happens, and what the UCLA folks ultimately come up with. Do any of you know of any middle schools or high schools that play music in the cafeteria during lunch? I'd love to hear about them whether they are successful, and even if they're not.

Please share any other aesthetic or atmosphere related ideas you may have for the makings of a "cooler caf".

As always have a fruit and veggie filled day!
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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