THE LUNCH ROOM COLLECTIVE, formed by Real Food for Kids in 2017, unites diverse stakeholders (school nutrition directors, school dietitians, school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, academics, and community members) to advance programs and policies leading to systematic change in the way we feed our students. Current and past Lunch Room Collective participants include school officials from DC, Arlington, Alexandria City, Montgomery, Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William Public Schools, representing almost 600,000 students in our region.
The Lunch Room Collective established three priorities for joint action:
- Identifying strategies to maximize the time and lunch experience for all students,
- Changing the perception of school food by teachers, students and families, and
- Integrating the cafeteria staff and school meals program into the overall school administration.
These priority items were chosen by the group based on perceived areas of highest need to improve student eating behaviors and rates of participation in school meal programs.
The Northern Virginia Health Foundation funded the Lunch Room Collective to initiate a study to deepen our understanding of factors that influence the cafeteria environment and influence students’ eating habits. Real Food for Kids led the research team, with partners from Arlington and Prince William County Public Schools, and researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University. An initial assessment phase of our research uncovered the integral role of lunchroom monitors in setting the tone in the cafeteria, yet found that these individuals received little training. In response, we developed and are currently testing the potential for a training to educate these staff regarding best practices that can create a warm and empathetic—yet controlled—cafeteria environment where all students can feel comfortable and thrive.