3 Tips to Increase Participation In Your School’s Nutrition Program

Posted on December 2, 2021

The pandemic affected all aspects of our lives, including what students eat at school. One report found that in the first year of the pandemic, schools served 2.2 billion fewer meals, accounting for $2.3 billion in lost federal revenue.

Because of that, most school meal programs reported a financial loss and are not sure what to expect in the near future. Despite the fact that the SSO program’s extension allows schools to be compensated for their nutrition programs, increasing participation is a critical step.

The question is: how do you encourage children and their parents to opt for a school meal program instead of bringing a packed lunch?

In this post, we’ll explore 3 strategies that can be utilized individually or as a combination to drive student participation in your nutrition program.


1. Make Sure to Spread the Word
The first question to ask yourself is: do our students and their families  know about our program?

If you only printed a few flyers and pinned them on the announcement board, there’s a good chance families missed the notices.

If your participation rates are low, one of the fastest ways to increase participation should be to get the word out.

At Whitsons, we encourage the use of different platforms to make sure that the news about the program and its benefits get to as many people as possible.

Your options include:

  • Send weekly emails and school newsletters to parents to tout the value of the nutrition within your program and the convenience it brings to busy families. The more transparency you share about your nutrition program – how meals are prepared, the recipes and menu items available that week, how easy it is to participate – the more likely you are to increase participation.
  • Share regular updates about nutrition on school social media sites.
  • Be sure that use of all available digital and regular bulletin boards are used, including a section on your website, physical bulletins at the school – visible where parents often are on a daily basis – and in public district locations as well. Districts are a great help to get the word out about your program!


2. Make It Fun
If you want to increase participation, then you need to make your meals fun. It's not just about how your meals look, but the entire experience should be engaging and interesting for students so that they share it with their parents.

One of the best ways to get parents interested in the school meal program is to get students excited first. If students are really engaged, they can be your best advocates.

Here are a few examples to really activate the mealtimes for your students:

  • You can have one week every other month where you explore international cuisines.
  • You can bring in outside vendors on occasion to drive excitement, such as a guest chef day.
  • You can have a theme like our Harvest of the Month, where the meals have ingredients that are usually harvested in that particular month. Bonus points if you can source ingredients from local farms!


3. Make It Easy
Let's be honest: for kids, lunch breaks are a major socialization event, something they’ve been starved for over the past eighteen months. If they spend most of their break waiting in a line for their meal, they are missing out on valuable socializing time.

That's why it's important to make it easier for students to order their meals. Convenience and speed are vital in this day and age, especially when it comes to school meal programs.

Here are a couple of ways to speed up the serving process in your school:

  • Use quick service pop-up stands or stations with grab-and-go grilled meals or assembled-to-order meals. These meals can still be freshly prepared but speed up the process by adding more service lines.
  • Make it possible to pre-order meals for a grab-and-go experience. By creating a separate line for ordering day of and pre-orders, the waiting experience is much shorter. 


Contact Us Now
The SSO makes meal programs more financially viable, but it does not simplify the management of these programs. Operating a meal program in a deficit can serve as a big distraction to your primary focus: providing a great education to your student body.

Whitsons knows what it takes to build an efficient program, manage it properly and boost participation rates.

Contact Whitsons today to start a conversation about increasing your participation.