The Lunch Room Collective, a diverse group of stakeholders convened by Real Food for Kids, came together in 2017 to advance programs and policies leading to systematic changes in the way we feed students. One key priority the group identified was to find strategies that maximize the time and lunch experience for all students. Children’s eating habits are shaped early and have enormous influence on their health, academic performance, and overall wellbeing. Their experience in the cafeteria can determine whether and how well they will eat.
With funding from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, we launched the Lunch Room Environment Study in 2018 to research interventions that have the potential to improve the cafeteria experience for students and clear the way for healthy eating habits to take root.
In the first year of our research, our findings suggested a need for further exploration into the role that lunchroom monitors play in setting the tone in the cafeteria. These individuals fill an integral role, yet reported receiving little training or parameters to guide their efforts to create an environment that is most conducive to healthy eating habits and student wellness.
In our second year, we tested a program to train lunchroom monitors, educating these staff regarding developmentally normative child behavior and best practices to create a warm and empathetic—yet controlled—environment. We are analyzing the results of this training and its potential to improve staff morale and reinforce the critical role they play in students’ health and wellbeing while fostering a positive cafeteria environment that improves student eating habits.