Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Pittsburgh Public Schools Partner on Smarter Lunchroom Program

January 28, 2016 – Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Pittsburgh Public Schools have partnered to create a healthy school environment for local children by implementing “smarter lunchrooms” in all cafeterias across the district.

Smarter lunchroom strategies entail simple, evidence-based changes that lead kids to make healthier food choices in the school cafeteria–such as moving and highlighting fruit, creatively naming vegetables and placing white milk first in coolers.

“Smarter lunchroom makeovers have proven effective across the country in encouraging students to make more healthful decisions, particularly taking and eating more fruits and vegetables,” said Anne Marie Kuchera, M.S., M.A., R.D., L.P.C., project director, Children’s Community Benefit Initiatives and Healthy Schools Program. “These changes are generally low-cost and easy to implement, making them both scalable and cost-effective.”

“We believe these small, easy changes will go a long way in leading our students to make healthier food choices,” said Elizabeth Henry, M.S., a registered dietitian in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. “These makeovers additionally advance our district efforts to support the needs of the whole child.”

Under the lead of Ms. Henry, all cafeterias across the district rolled out four major lunchroom “makeovers” at the end of November to encourage healthier food choices and consumption among all students. The changes include: • Adding creative names to vegetables, such as “X Ray Vision Carrots” and “Power Punch Broccoli,” following the principle that kids expect something with a fun name to taste better and, therefore, are more likely to choose these offerings at lunch.

  • Promoting white instead of chocolate milk. By making white milk more visible and more convenient, schools increase the opportunities for children to select it.
  • Increasing the appeal of foods. Colorful tablecloths brighten the cafeteria and help guide students toward healthier items.
  • Using colorful menu boards at the entrance to the lunch line to prime kids for a healthful meal that tastes good.

These changes affect more than 19,000 students who eat school lunch daily in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Ms. Henry, along with Chatham University graduate student Dani Lyons, will collect pre- and post-implementation data to determine the effectiveness of the program, which received a $10,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation.

“Through the use of this grant we have been able to enhance the appearance of all 56 of our school cafeterias,” said Curtistine Walker, director of Food Services, Pittsburgh Public Schools. “It is our hope that we will begin to see more of our students selecting fruits and vegetables as part of their daily lunch.”

In 2014, Children’s Hospital partnered with Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide assistance to create environments that promote nutritious eating and physical activity using the country’s largest school-based childhood obesity prevention initiative, the Healthy Schools Program. The program is a project of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was co-founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation.

SOURCE: Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC