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Can a Cafeteria Make-Over Get Students Excited about School Lunch?

TFC investigates a promising new domain of school meal research.

Imagine you are a high school student faced with a drab cafeteria, institutional tables with benches, and one serving window for 4,000 students to get lunch from.  Add in long lines and hurried meal time, and  atmosphere. But what would happen if the cafeteria layout and design was renovated to mirror the cool cafe hangouts seen in movies, malls, and other places teens admire?

A new NYC Department of Education initiative to overhaul 20 middle and high school cafeterias gives researchers at the Tisch Food Center an exciting opportunity to explore this question. Thanks to funding from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, we are undertaking a case study at Edward R. Murrow High School, the first cafeteria to be renovated. We will be evaluating how renovations to the lunch line and seating areas impact students' lunch participation and what they are eating.

In the quest to encourage students to eat school lunch, which can improve academic outcomes and reduce inequity, many creative approaches have been used. Efforts include nutrition education, universal free school meals, school wellness policies, and behavioral economics or “nudges” pointing to healthy options. School design and architecture is an emerging area of research that could complement these other areas. The renovations at Edward R. Murrow encompass a variety of seating options, cheerful wall décor, and a more efficient and appealing “grab and go” style lunch line meant to reduce long lines.

TFC researchers collected baseline data the week prior to the renovations, documenting the cafeteria design, what students chose and ate at lunch, and student attitudes towards the cafeteria.  At one and three months post renovations, researchers will return to collect data and compare the effect cafeteria design had on school lunch consumption and attitudes. We will use DOE data to investigate the impact of the renovations on school lunch participation.  The Edward R. Murrow case study may illuminate the potential for change at other NYC public schools.

Published Monday, Mar. 27, 2017

Can a Cafeteria Make-Over Get Students Excited about School Lunch?

Imagine you are a high school student faced with a drab cafeteria, institutional tables with benches, and one serving window for 4,000 students to get lunch from.  Add in long lines and hurried meal time, and  atmosphere. But what would happen if the cafeteria layout and design was renovated to mirror the cool cafe hangouts seen in movies, malls, and other places teens admire?

A new NYC Department of Education initiative to overhaul 20 middle and high school cafeterias gives researchers at the Tisch Food Center an exciting opportunity to explore this question. Thanks to funding from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, we are undertaking a case study at Edward R. Murrow High School, the first cafeteria to be renovated. We will be evaluating how renovations to the lunch line and seating areas impact students' lunch participation and what they are eating.

In the quest to encourage students to eat school lunch, which can improve academic outcomes and reduce inequity, many creative approaches have been used. Efforts include nutrition education, universal free school meals, school wellness policies, and behavioral economics or “nudges” pointing to healthy options. School design and architecture is an emerging area of research that could complement these other areas. The renovations at Edward R. Murrow encompass a variety of seating options, cheerful wall décor, and a more efficient and appealing “grab and go” style lunch line meant to reduce long lines.

TFC researchers collected baseline data the week prior to the renovations, documenting the cafeteria design, what students chose and ate at lunch, and student attitudes towards the cafeteria.  At one and three months post renovations, researchers will return to collect data and compare the effect cafeteria design had on school lunch consumption and attitudes. We will use DOE data to investigate the impact of the renovations on school lunch participation.  The Edward R. Murrow case study may illuminate the potential for change at other NYC public schools.

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