Many of us know that a fun, exciting place will draw students in but when it comes to the cafeteria environment, it can be difficult to know where or how to start. With the need to ensure that students are provided with healthy food options, other factors, such as the cafeteria atmosphere, can be easily overlooked.
The United States Department of Agriculture listed "Pleasant Eating Experiences" as one of the key components to create a healthy school nutrition environment: "Children will enjoy their food more and may try more healthy options if they can relax, eat, and socialize without feeling rushed. Studies show that environment has a powerful influence on behavior. A pleasant dining area allows students to pay attention to what they are eating, and to enjoy the sensory and social aspects of a healthy meal." (USDA, Changing the Scene: Improving the School Nutrition Environment, A Guide To Local Action)
Here are a few examples from the USDA describing what a pleasant dining experience looks like:
- Meal periods are long enough for students to eat and socialize.
- There are enough serving areas so that the students don't have to spend too much time waiting in line.
- Dining areas are attractive and have sufficient space for seating; tables and chairs are the right size for the students.
- Creative methods are used to keep the noise levels appropriate - no "eat in silence", whistles, or buzzing traffic lights.
With some creative solutions, you can create the unique and exciting atmosphere that you and your students dream of.
1. Use a thematic design
2. Incorporate custom artwork
3. Introduce a color scheme
4. Use interesting signage
5. Install booth seating
6. Add school colors and mascot
Well placed seating can increase your seating capacity and improve traffic flow, allowing students to move quickly through serving areas and easily find a place to sit.
By creating intimate dining areas using a variety of chairs, tables, booths and counter height areas, noise levels are drastically reduced. Students can sit with a smaller group of friends and no longer have to try to communicate across one long table. Some schools even use the booth seating as a special reward for positive behavior, which motivates students in a positive way.
Introducing a fun color scheme and artwork will make a bold statement. Include the school colors or mascot to help boost school spirit!
Even small changes can make a big impact. Implementing these solutions will help provide a more pleasant eating experience and will breathe new life into your food service program!