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Bring Some Personality to your Cafeteria


8 Simple Merchandising Tips to Encourage Student Participation

Good nutrition is vital for a healthy, engaged student body. For many children, access to healthy and nutritious meals starts in their school cafeteria.

Creative merchandising can help cafeteria teams meet the nutritional needs of students, with foods they enjoy and self-serve options that may help take the burden off foodservice staff.

With the right food options and a little bit of creativity, merchandising tactics can create an engaging mealtime experience that keeps kids full and fueled for learning, driving student participation without breaking the bank in terms of labor and time.

Here are eight ways to use food merchandising to feed a hungry student body, without added hassle.

#1 - Supplement choices with packaged options

Incorporating regulation-ready, pre-packaged foods are great for a variety of reasons. They allow students who are on the go to grab a quick bite they can eat on the way to class and help cafeteria workers set up more self-serve options for the kids.

K-12 student selects cereal from a basket in school cafeteria. Fresh whole fruit is also shown.

#2 - Incorporate tiered baskets

Counter space is often in short supply in the lunchroom. Tiered baskets and bin storage racks are a great way to display a variety of foods with a limited footprint. Use breathable bins to display fresh fruit, such as woven baskets, and wire racks to display packaged goods, such as cereal bars.

#3 - Color their world!

Remember — your students are like everyone — they eat with their eyes first! From your à la carte racks to your salad bar, mix up your displays to show a variety of colors and shapes to avoid inadvertently creating a monochromatic display.

#4 - Use vending machines to display packaged options

Schools with vending machines have a unique opportunity to create self-serve opportunities for nutritious packaged foods. Contact your machine’s vendor to see if you can add or rotate other options.

#5 - Curate choice

Whether it be adding diverse cereal and yogurt options to your menu, or multiple flavors of individually wrapped items, don’t offer students all possible varieties of a single item at the same time. Instead, offer a couple of options and rotate new flavors in and out to keep students coming back. Better yet – tie in flavors to seasonal holidays or events and serve them as a limited-time offer to pique students’ interest!

#6 - Rethink à la carte

In today’s labor market, maintaining a large à la carte presence may be a thing of the past. Instead, try incorporating smaller bins in front of cash registers to stock à la carte items, which can also encourage impulse buying.

#7 - Don’t forget about school staff

While students are always top of mind, teachers and school support staff are often an “untapped market” for school cafeterias. Don’t forget to loop them in on weekly menus, new items, and any special events happening in the cafeteria.

#8 - Channel your inner child

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be sure to channel your inner child when it comes to crafting your displays or shelving. Don’t let your hard work go to waste, and make sure items and displays are tailored to your students’ eye level.

Variety doesn’t have to create more work

Cafeteria workers continue to be in short supply and nutritional directors are feeling the pressure to lighten the workload wherever possible. Introducing convenient, grab-and-go food options gives students variety, without adding more to cafeteria workers’ plates. With healthy, packaged options and a little creative merchandising, we can all work together to make student nutrition a group project.