Student engagement is a priority for many School Nutrition programs, but what does “engagement” really mean?
It’s easy to reduce the idea of “engagement” down to simply getting students into your lunch line; however, that’s a one-way interaction. True engagement is a two-way, give-and-take process.
For that reason, it’s best to look at the bigger picture. Instead of only asking, “How can we get students to engage with our program and get into our lunch line,” first try asking, “How can we engage our students?”
The best way to engage your students? Empower them.
When you empower your students to have a hand in your School Nutrition program, they will care about it as much as you do. They will take pride in it, get excited about it, and, yes, partake in it. (Translation: they will get in your lunch line!)
Here are three ways to empower students:
1. Student Advisory Group
With this option, you are letting students have a hand in the School Nutrition program itself.
This group can be your go-to resource for ideas and feedback. Who better to ask what students want than the students themselves?
Not only will your program become more geared toward what students want, but also the advisory group will take pride in having helped, which means they are likely to be your biggest advocates among other students.
Students encouraging other students to purchase lunch instead of bringing their own will have a better outcome than if a non-student (School Nutrition team member, administrator, etc.) tries to persuade students to participate in your School Lunch program.
Where to Look
To form your Student Advisory Group, look to some of the already-established student organizations. Students who already are interested in Advocacy, Business, and Teamwork will be self-motivated to contribute.
The student council is a great place to start. You may also want to consider high-achieving students from social studies classes. If your school has any sort of extracurricular Business group, like an entrepreneurship club, all the better.
2. School Garden
This option allows you to grow your lunch line by empowering students to grow some of the food you serve.
There are three benefits to serving student-grown food.
First, when students put in the effort to grow food, they probably are not going to miss the chance to eat that food (and to get other students to join them in celebrating the work they did).
Second, since the students likely will be growing vegetables, this is a way to get students to try new foods and to eat healthier options.
Third, depending on how much food is grown, you could be able to partially offset costs. Granted, unless your school has an acre or two reserved for agriculture, it may not be a huge savings, but a penny saved is nonetheless a penny earned.
Where to Look
To find students interested in cultivating a school garden, work with the Science teachers. In particular, Biology and Natural Science students who are interested in the subject may want to participate. Additionally, Health classes could provide students who are interested in healthy, organic eating.
3. Tie in a Cause
What if for every lunch sold, you donated a small amount to a particular charity or cause that your students care about?
This approach won’t work everywhere, but it could be worth testing.
Where to Look (and How to Test)
Survey the students who tend to bring their own lunches and find out what they care about. Then, do the math. How many students bring their own lunches? If you were to get those students who normally bring their lunches to instead buy a school lunch, will the profits from those additional lunches sold be larger than the profits you donate?
If so, go for it.
Not only will this be good for your School Nutrition program since you will have more money to re-invest, but also you will be helping a cause and, at the same time, giving your students a voice in the world.