Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

There has been a push in the last several years for cafeterias to offer healthier food options. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, passed new regulations in 2012 requiring more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in school cafeterias.

However, once the food is there, it’s up to patrons to make healthy choices when building a plate. A cafeteria can make a few simple changes to encourage these healthier choices.

How can things like rearranging food options, adding labels and information about options, and offering trays with small dishes make such a difference?

Know Your Patrons

First, it’s important to remember who will be going through the line in your cafeteria. In a hospital, patrons might be of all ages, and children are likely to be accompanied by an adult. In a middle school, children are likely to make decisions about food selection on their own.

Children and adults are drawn to different kinds of food and different displays, so encouraging healthy eating is different, depending on your patrons.

For example, a tactic used by grocery stores to encourage purchasing certain products is to place them at eye level. For children, this means that healthier options should be near the lower shelves, while adults are more likely to notice them on the middle shelves.

Children are also more likely to react to more colorful foods, and those that are well designed. For example, placing a sample dish with healthy, colorful options, and making a face on the plate might encourage children to mimic the display.

Adults, on the other hand, are less likely to be influenced by the way the food is designed, and prefer fewer foods and colors on their plates. However, making healthy food attractive and easy to see will encourage adults to select these items. Fresh, quality fruits and vegetables are bright and colorful on their own, so simply placing them in a visible area can encourage adult patrons to choose them.

Use Small Plates

One of the biggest issues that leads to unhealthy eating choices is portion size. Small plates fill up faster than large ones, which can encourage patrons to eat smaller portions or to choose fewer selections, ultimately, leading to healthier eating choices.

Put Healthy Options in High Traffic Areas

When a hungry patron comes into a cafeteria, they are most likely to fill their plate with the first things they notice. Placing healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in a high traffic area like the entrance to the cafeteria will encourage more people to eat these foods.

Similarly, placing easy to grab health foods, like apples, bananas, or pears near the checkout counter – another high traffic area – is a great way to encourage patrons to select these items on their way out.

Add Labels and Descriptions

It is important to label all foods in a cafeteria, but the depth of the food descriptions can make a difference in whether or not the food is selected.

The name of the food should, of course, be the first thing on the label to help patrons recognize the food. The more descriptive the name, the more likely an adult patron is to select the food item.

Cafeterias that include health claims on food items may also find that those foods are selected more often, because the description encourages the patron to think about long term effects about what they’re eating now.

Offer Express Checkout

In public cafeterias, offering a healthy express checkout can be an incentive for patrons to fill their plates with healthy options. A checkout line may only serve patrons who are eating both fruits and vegetables, or who fill a certain portion of their plate with greens. Either way, this checkout line is reserved only for healthy eaters.

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

School Lunch Orders – Getting Paid Up Front vs. Getting Paid in the Lunch Line

Pre-order meals

According to statistics, nearly one-third of children between 6 and 19 years of age are considered obese. And a contributing factor is their choosing less healthy foods in school lunchrooms.

To encourage children to make healthier food choices, schools need to consider implementing school lunch preorder and pre-payment programs that can preempt hunger-based, spontaneous selections while eliminating sensory cues like smells and sights. At the same time, preordering of lunch can help schools minimize waste, allow for minimal inventory, and optimize freshness of products.

What are the real benefits of school lunch preorder and pre-payment? We’ve listed them below.

Parents Are in Full Control of Students’ Eating Patterns

With meal preordering and payment, parents and children can decide in advance whether they’re packing a lunch or buying one. As such, they will never have to worry about last-minute treks to the grocery store or conversations like “Where’s my lunch?” ten minutes before the bus arrives.

Students Know What They’re Going to Be Served

When students know what they are going to be served, lunch service itself becomes significantly quicker. At the same time, preordering and pre-payment of lunch allows schools to increase revenue by reducing costs and operating more efficiently.

Studies have shown that for every dollar given for lunch money, only 70 cents gets spent at school. Since meal preordering and pre-payment involves online payments, a cashier is no longer needed. The money ends up in the bank without having to count the drawer, fill out the deposit slip, and run to the bank to deposit it. And parents don’t need to worry about how their child’s lunch money is really being spent.

Upfront Costs Are No Longer an Issue

When getting paid up-front, schools and lunch providers don’t need to be concerned about collecting the cash from the students. Also, receivables are no longer at risk of aging, minimizing collection risk considerably. As consumers, we pay for goods upfront when ordering online, and this can be applied to meal preordering as well.

Lunch Becomes More Organized and Takes Less Time

Paying for meals in the lunch line can be difficult to organize and supervise, especially when every student orders something different. This is not the case when school lunch orders are placed ahead of time: students just go to the lunchroom, and the attendant knows what to serve. There are no decisions to be made, and students don’t have to look for lunch money. Kids can simply pick-up their meal and eat it.

Schools Can Get Out of the Lunch Business Altogether

Schools are not in the food service business by choice. Feeding kids is a necessity. However, many schools choose to opt out of the school lunch order and payment process if possible. Most of the time, contracting with a management company or caterer to make and deliver food is the best option.

In most cases, food is provided by School Board selected vendors. While preordering of meals can solve many problems related to unhealthy food choices, organizers & boards fail to see how they can help with other issues. The food service process can become daunting, and easy solutions get lost in the mix of details. This holds especially true with the combination of order forms, lunch tickets, cash collection, and delivery coordination and reconciliation. Since preordering can help schools save money by eliminating waste, & streamline serving, it also helps students eat healthier.

Preordering and prepayment of school lunch orders will grow as educational institutions become more involved in the health of our nation’s children.