Serve healthy and delicious food and staff and students will love it immediately. Right? Not always.
Some will be excited and enthusiastic about more nutritious foods served on center. Some will still ask to bring in fast food vendors or will order take-out regardless of how "good" center food becomes. Most people lay somewhere in the middle of immediate acceptance and total rejection. Regardless of how the center community reacts to change, particularly of food choices, changes will not be successful without student and staff input. The cafeteria food can be full of healthy options, while still reflecting the culture and tastes of the staff and student population. Most importantly, making simple changes that make a difference and work within the means and limitations of the center is the key point to stress when promoting healthier food changes to center management. When changing food, all the stakeholders must be the targets of promotion.
On this page, you can learn about:
Promoting Healthier Food to Students
Any changes made on center will put a certain amount of stress on students. To mitigate this effect, introduce new foods before taking away old ones. It is common practice at schools and Job Corps centers to make changes to food service during a break. This way when students return they will be less likely to reject new foods and may even be excited to see some things have changed for the better. The following pages contain suggestions for promoting healthy eating to students.
Verbal Communication Strategies
Before new food is introduced or a nutrition education program is put in place, talk with students. Help them come to the conclusion that their health is important now and in the future and that the staff care about them enough to help them eat better and be healthier. Some strategies for verbally communicating with students include:
- Talk with them early and often. Beginning when they arrive on center, promote healthy eating. The center's food service and nutrition program should be endorsed during student's first meal on center and throughout their orientation.
- The food service manager or a member of the health and wellness staff can speak about nutrition at assemblies or classroom visits. This message should be consistent and reinforced often.
- Have a food service staff member or a staff designee greet students when they come to meals. Make sure these staff members are knowledgeable about the food being served and the benefits of choosing certain items.
- Find out why students think they should eat healthy foods. For many young people, preventing diabetes or heart disease in the future is not enough motivation. If students say they are motivated to lose weight, to have a better complexion, to have less stomach ailments, or to have more energy promote these reasons for healthy eating. Research suggests key motivators for healthy eating in adolescent men are sports, being strong and better physical performance. In young women, personal appearance is the main motivator.
- Listen to feedback. Students need to be involved in this process to embrace it. See the Student Input page for more tips.
- Reinforce why you serve healthy food. Let students know Job Corps cares about their health future employability. Make sure they do not think of changes to food service as punishment, but something the center is doing for their well-being and life-long success.
Students should be regularly reminded to make healthy choices. A staff member or peer will not always be there to remind students to make healthy choices. Whether or not students are always consciously aware of their surroundings, visual promotional materials will serve as a reminder to make healthy choices. Centers can make their own materials or order them from various companies.
Some sources of free and low cost posters and brochures include:
Posters, flyers, brochures, table tents, and newsletters can easily be designed specifically for your center with desktop publishing software that you probably already have, clip art, and some interested staff or students. Below are examples of such promotional items:
Have a promotional item you would like to submit? Email us.
Introducing new menu items and other changes can be tricky. Students and staff may be intimidated by new and different foods. To try out a new idea, new food, or new type of cuisine, try introducing it through a special event such as an ethnic cuisine night, a competition, or a taste testing. (Read more about taste testings on the Student Input page). Some tips for special events include:
- If you are hosting an event that focuses on a certain ethnic cuisine, ensure the food is authentic. Ask Culinary Arts students (if your center has a program) or other interested students to find or bring in recipes from the region. Make sure you have the right spices and products. Test the recipes before the event to make sure they are suitable. If a cuisine is associated with different eating customs, allow students to participate in these customs, e.g., serve chopsticks on an Asian night.
- Make it a big deal. Advertise for the special night and decorate the dining room.
- Tell students about the nutritional value of the meals. Reinforce that food that is good for you usually tastes good too.
- Allow interested students to take ownership of the event.
- Think about special performances or demonstrations that may work with the theme. Examples include a cooking demonstration, music, or a dance performance.
- Hold competitions to get students interested in food service changes. Is your cafeteria simply referred to as the cafeteria? Have a cafeteria-naming contest. Students can enter possible names and ideas for a logo to earn small rewards or prizes. Involve students in essay contests or recipe contests as well. Have a cool name already? Add it to our list.
- Collaborate with the health and wellness center on a weight management competition. Several centers have had successful "Biggest Loser" competitions. Note: The prize for the winning team should not be a pizza party or other food reward.
Leadership and Mentoring Opportunities
Students can serve as nutrition peer leaders and mentors. This not only benefits other students, but also will benefit the student serving as the leader. Student leaders can be student government association members, food service committee members, wellness committee members, dormitory leaders, or any other student who takes an interest in nutrition.
Interested students can promote healthy eating to other students and help to educate students on how to eat healthy. It will save center staff considerable time if they can educate a handful of students and those students can educate others.
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Promoting Healthier Food to Staff
Simple changes or a complete overhaul of the food service program will be easier and more effective if many staff members participate in the change. The following steps outline a few recommendations to promote changes to staff:
- Speak with staff before any changes occur.
- Start by speaking with staff members who have a passion for nutrition. Assemble a core nutrition team.
- Decide what your nutrition program will look like. How many changes will you make? Will this be a complete overhaul of the program or will few people outside the cafeteria staff notice the change?
- Think about center goals and outcomes for your new food service program. How long will the changes take? How will your center be different after the food service changes are made?
- Think about obstacles you may face and how you will overcome these obstacles. Jot down these potential roadblocks and solutions to prepare for when others bring them up.
- Read about promising practices at other centers. Be ready to use these success stories as examples of how you can change Job Corps food service.
- Introduce the rational and expected benefits of an improved nutrition program to all staff at a meeting or training. Prior to this meeting, make sure that you have reviewed most or all of this site, you feel that you have a grasp of what works and what does not work, and you know how you will apply these changes to your center. Provide samples of healthy and tasty foods at this meeting.
- Encourage staff members to deliver positive messages about healthy eating to students. Staff members should serve as role models and should make healthy choices especially when eating with or near students.
- Ask for feedback and suggestions.
- Encourage staff to play an active role in the nutrition program. They can start by eating in the cafeteria with students.
Promotion is an integral part of food service changes on the center. In preparing to make minimal changes or completely revamp food service, the stakeholders must be intimately involved in the evaluation, planning, and promotion process.
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