By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD 2016-11-04 16:39:02
Easy ways to upgrade your serving and dining areas without budgeting big bucks. IF YOU HAVE MILLION-DOLLAR BUDGETS TO RENOVATE YOUR SERVING LINES AND DINING AREAS, consider yourself beyond lucky. It’s far more common for school nutrition operators to find themselves with a vision for refreshing and updating their spaces, but only minimal resources to get it done. Never fear! There are smart ways to get the big and small upgrades you want. This article features ideas for out-of-the-box partnerships, readily available grants and some old-fashioned DIY (do-it-yourself) ingenuity—all guaranteed to put some “wow” into your school nutrition spaces. When available, we’ve included cafeteria photos to offer the best illustration—and ample inspiration—of the possibilities at hand. SEASONAL SPIRIT Simple seasonal and holiday decorations for the serving line are an obvious place to start. Karen Brown, director of child nutrition services, Sumner School District, in Washington, recommends applying the “KISS” (“keep it simple, stupid”) principle to cafeteria décor: “You can make decorations out of [supplies] you have right on hand. For example, our fall decorations were crafted from empty milk cartons (to represent a pumpkin patch) and paper lunch bags (to create the scarecrows).” Decorations like these can sit atop a salad bar or bring color to a serving line. If you are not exactly a craft wizard, no worries: There is always Pinterest! Pick any holiday or event and you can find DIY photos—and, more important, instructions—for enough decorations to fill every school kitchen in the United States many times over. DISCOVER HIDDEN TALENTS—AND PUT THEM TO WORK! Keep in mind that you do not have to actually make things with your own hands. Art teachers (and their students), digital graphics teachers (and their students), shop teachers (and their students) and artistic members of your own staff can be brought on board to brighten up your serving lines or cafeteria walls. You can often find special talents among parents, grandparents and other school staff. Start asking around your school and district—don’t overlook anyone. From custodians to secretaries to coaches, you may turn up some volunteers with impressive talents. Waynesboro Primary School is part of Burke County (Ga.) Public Schools, and its cafeteria definitely boasts extraordinary décor. Walls feature jungle scenes. Puffy white cloud and rainbows span ceiling beams across bright blue skies. Add red-and-white checked tablecloths for a Fall 2016 Georgia Department of Agriculture “Feed My School” event, and the dining area looked amazingly inviting—like an outdoor picnic, complete with pandas and other exotic animals among the guests. According to Burke School Nutrition Director Donna Martin, EdS, RD, LD, SNS, the cafeteria murals were painted several years ago by an unexpected artist. A local custodian applied his artistic abilities and brightened up the walls and ceilings of cafeterias, as well as hallways and gymnasiums all across the school district. “He even painted some Star Wars figures, like Yoda, into the jungle scenes, because the superintendent was a fan of those movies,” recounts Martin. “You never know who may have hidden talents in your community. If you want murals, start talking to the PTA/PTO, local craftspeople and service clubs. You just might end up with rainbows on your ceilings!” PINT-SIZED PICASSOS Chef Robert Rusan at Maplewood-Richmond Heights (Mo.) School District says he dreams of livening up his dining areas with brightly colored murals—but such a project takes time to arrange. While he negotiates for a large-scale project, he has arranged to add some smaller, eye-catching food paintings—from student artists—on the walls of his cafeteria spaces. “I got together with [one of our] art teachers and told her that I wanted something to decorate the walls,” says Rusan. “Mrs. Stockard came up with the idea of these paintings, and I was surprised and so impressed with what the students did.” The bold paintings on Chef Robert’s walls are decidedly impressive, and they now form a somewhat permanent cafeteria exhibit. Student artwork is one of the easiest, least expensive and most effective ways to brighten up any school space. You likely will discover that many art and classroom teachers are eager to partner on projects that allow students to showcase their creativity. Students (and their families) all like to see the “fruits” of their labors—“I/my child made that!” Cafeteria art projects can be designed as contests (or not) and connected to special nutrition events like National School Breakfast Week or used in the promotion of new menu items. Students can also become the subjects of dining area décor, as “celebrities” representing the school nutrition department and featured on personalized posters. Dr. Linette Dodson, RD, LD, SNS, nutrition director for Carrollton City (Ga.) Schools, is very excited about a public awareness campaign her team has launched involving several high school athletes, band members and performing arts students. The posters, pictured on this page, feature real high school students who really eat school lunch. Dodson credits multiple district partners who made the campaign possible—and affordable. “We worked with public relations to take the photos, using a green screen provided by the media program. The marketing department helped us with slogans, while our graphic arts students placed the backgrounds and logos and printed the posters for us to use in our cafeterias.” The participating teens who agreed to be celebrity representatives for the nutrition program are really excited about the campaign, reports Dodson. And their fame has spread far and wide! “This fall, when our elementary students had high school students come read to their class, they specifically requested our school nutrition celebrities,” she reveals. The cost of this very successful initiative was simply the printing of the posters. The graphics have been put to multiple uses beyond refreshing the look of dining areas. They are also available for use on social media channels and other digital and printed marketing and communications materials. GRANT ME ONE WISH Across the country, Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) Grants, funded through regional dairy councils, have helped schools renovate and refresh serving and dining areas in many attractive ways. Serving carts, like the ones pictured from Memorial Middle School, Fitchburg (Mass.) Public Schools and North East Independent School District near San Antonio, Texas, can be used for grab ‘n’ go breakfasts and lunches and have been especially popular. Since these can be moved from one location to another, they bring bright graphics to indoor and outdoor spaces as needed. FUTP60 grants have enabled some schools to undertake more substantial upgrades to dining areas. Idaho Dairy Council worked with the child nutrition team at West Ada (Idaho) School District, near Boise, to turn a bland brick cafeteria at Ponderosa Elementary School into a fun, inviting “Fuel Up Station,” applying a dynamic racecar theme. In Denver, Colo., Western Dairy Association/FUTP60 partnered with Leprino Foods Company, a Denver-based dairy food and ingredient manufacturer, to remodel the Edison Elementary School, Denver Public Schools, located near the company’s headquarters. The FUTP60 student team, school parent group, art teacher and principal worked with Western Dairy staff to develop design ideas. Leprino Foods helped underwrite the cost of paint and other supplies, as well as providing company volunteers to help paint cafeteria murals that featured Edison’s Eagle mascot, as well as depictions of the nearby Rocky Mountains. Many other schools around the country have used FUTP60 funds to do similar makeovers in their schools. In each case, artwork is customized to hightlight individual school or district mascots, locations or other requests. El Monte City Schools in Southern California also has obtained grants to hire local artists for murals inside and outside their elementary schools. Nutrition Services Director Dr. Robert Lewis, SNS, understands the power of compelling graphics. “Posters and murals can welcome customers inside and outside the serving line. It is always important to market your program outside the cafeteria to bring your student customers inside the cafeteria.” Lewis is also a firm believer in applying Smarter Lunchroom techniques (www.smarterlunchrooms.org) and using them to their fullest advantage. “In a tight space, be sure to add rows of color,” he advises. “Small baskets of fresh fruits are a welcoming sight, and the baskets add [dimension] to the uniformity of long stainless steel, traditional cafeteria lines. You can purchase small and deep baskets to hold a variety of options.” INCREDIBLE AND EDIBLE! Let’s not forget about using food itself as a readily available source of (often-edible) nutrition decorations. The child nutrition team at Provo City (Utah) School District have been genuine pioneers in creating eye-popping food art to entertain customers and demonstrate their culinary (and artistic) skills. (They are so inventive and inspiring, SN can’t help giving them repeat appearances in our “Things We Love” column. [pages 82-83]) Visit the Provo team’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ITSMealsProvo) and gain inspiration from both the simple and the elaborate creations they’ve produced as part of regular “competitions” among the artists at different cafeteria sites. You can easily scroll back through years of holidays and special events to find just the “right” watermelon or pineapple animal you need for your serving line. Another school nutrition team that has elevated food art as a regular part of the school lunch experience can be found at Dayton City (Tenn.) Elementary School District. Students are eager to see the latest fruit and/or vegetable creations, which have included a spaghetti squash school bus, pineapple parrots and strawberry roses. Director of Nutrition Services Tammy Travis, who has conducted food art workshops for her peers at Tennessee state trainings, says, “Food art is more than just a pretty decoration. It is a way to encourage children to try new foods, and it has gotten our teachers excited about coming to the cafeteria for lunch, too! For Halloween, we had a giant pumpkin ‘eye’ watching to make sure customers selected their fruit and veggies. It was one of my personal favorites.” The school nutrition services department at Loudoun County (Va.) Schools went one step further by recruiting both local farmers and teachers to decorate individual pumpkins to be used as prizes in Lucky Tray Day giveaways. After enlisting the art teachers in her school, Jen Bernui, manager at Newton Lee Elementary School, had some gorgeous Minions and Pokémon to give to students this year. FREECYCLE FREEDOM A final tip for low-cost decorations in your serving and dining areas comes from another Loudoun County Kitchen Manager, Kathy Meade, John Champe High School, who is never too proud to do a little scrounging for someone else’s castoffs. “My current decorations came from the school store and the DECA department. They were going to throw them away, and I asked if I could have them for free,” Meade notes. “I also have some very nice decorations from the PTO and other events hosted at the school. Folks are generally happy to let me recycle decorations, rather than just throw them out.” [Editors’ Note: After School Nutrition finished the photo shoot for the August 2016 profile of SNA President Becky Domokos-Bays, Loudoun’s school nutrition services director, she collected the dozens of gift-wrapped boxes used as props to provide to interested managers for decorative use. We suspect Meade was one of the recipients!] Whether you opt to dumpster dive or hit up every Saturday afternoon yard and garage sale, you might be surprised at the variety of low-cost or free finds you may discover and repurpose for your permanent or promotional décor efforts. Remember, one person’s “trash” is another person’s “treasure”! POSTER PRINCIPLES Whether you are using posters, student art projects or DIY decorations, rotation is key. In promoting use of their cafeteria posters, USDA’s Team Nutrition (www.fns.usda.gov/team-nutrition/elementary-posters and www.fns.usda.gov/tn/dig-posters) offers the following tips to ensure your posters/decorations get noticed: • Match posters with a particular event. • Don’t clutter an area with too many posters. • Rotate posters so they stay fresh. • Place posters and other artwork at student eye level. USDA posters are free to any Team Nutrition schools and can be used repeatedly for promotions. For example, many schools use the Make Today a Try-Day poster any time they are conducting a sampling activity of new foods. Students learn to expect tasty new food samples when they see the poster displayed in the dining area. BONUS WEB CONTENT Refreshing School Nutrition Spaces Learn how a high school psychology class project led to a creative redesign of the cafeteria in this month’s online extras. Don’t underestimate the power of collaborative partnerships! Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Dayle Hayes is a school nutrition and social media consultant based in Billings, Mont. She maintains several social media channels under the School Meals That Rock brand. You can reach her at EatWellatSchool@gmail.com.
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