What You'll Learn

Learn about healthy vs. unhealthy foods and how to make it easier for students in your school to make healthy choices.

What You'll Do

You will select an area of healthy eating to improve, implement your improvement plan (with short- and long-term goals), and then plan a way to keep it going.

Why This Play

Get students excited about school meals and snacks! Think about it this way — your school cafeteria might be the biggest, busiest “restaurant” in the area! Help the members of your school and community feel the excitement by giving your cafeteria and other places food is served a makeover. The goal is to give students access to more nutritious food options and to encourage them to choose those consistently.

Research and school reports that have been done in middle and high schools tell us that when less nutritious snacks and à la carte foods and beverages are replaced with foods that are more nutrient-rich, students choose them more often – even as snacks in vending machines.i ii

Warm Up Activity Idea! 

Not quite ready for the full Play? Try this.

  • Pick (or get) one vending machine that you stock with only healthy choices. Highlight it in school announcements.
  • Hold taste tests of the snacks offered in the machine. Track the usage of the machine and use the results to build interest in the full Play. Download the Tips For Taste Test PDF.


i Alaimo, K., Oleksyk, S. C., Drzal, N. B., Golzynski, D. L., Lucarelli, J. F., Wen, Y., & Velie, E. M., Effects of changes in lunch-time competitive foods, nutrition practices, and nutrition policies on low-income middle-school children's diets. 2013. Childhood Obesity. 9(6):509-523. Accessed January 21, 2019.

ii Action for Healthy Kids. Healthy foods and healthy finances: how schools are making nutrition changes that make financial sense (see p. 7 of Michigan document). 2005. Accessed January 21, 2019.

iii French, S. A., Pricing effects on food choices. 2003. Journal of Nutrition. 133(3):841S-843S. Accessed January 21, 2019.

What To Do

Select an area of healthy eating to improve, implement your plan (with short- and long-term goals), and then plan a way to keep it going.

⚠️ Note: In any Play where you plan to work with school meals or à la carte offerings, you must involve the school nutrition director and other professionals! If that’s not you, be sure to contact that team before you get started.

Step 1: Pick an area

Pick an area of healthy eating in your school (the cafeteria, vending areas, stores and/or sporting event concessions, etc.).

    • Conduct a survey of the à la carte foods or vending/concessions foods that students select over the course of a week.
      • Make a list of the foods offered,  rank them in terms of their nutrient quality (your school nutrition staff can help you) and track how many of each item students select during a given time period.
      • Evaluate how well students do at selecting the most nutritious options.
      • Set a goal for improving their selections.
      • Gather your team to create a “wish list” of ways to make the cafeteria more inviting and ways to highlight the more nutritious choices on the menu.
      • Have your team look at images of cafeteria makeovers and imagine what you might do in your school. Talk about the positives of each to come up with a composite idea you can pursue as a team.
      • Pick from the lists below in Step 2, either Cafeteria or Vending/Concession Areas.

Step 2: Implementation

Implement your plan.


Meet with your team and brainstorm ways to make the cafeteria more inviting and ways to highlight the more nutritious choices on the menu. Use your work from Step 1.

  • Divide the ideas into short-term goals (things you may be able to achieve quickly and without much work) and long-term goals (projects that may be harder because they take more time, funding or cooperation from a lot of people).
  • After you set your priorities, develop a plan to make it happen — one step at a time. Here are some ideas for short- and long-term thinking.
  • Things you may be able to do right away
    • Add protein options like shredded cheese or hard-boiled eggs to your salad bar — or add a salad bar if you don’t have one yet!
    • Set up a smoothie station with nutrient-rich recipes and ingredients.
    • Create a quick access "grab and go" line in the cafeteria meal line — with nutritious, prepackaged foods that qualify as a full meal.
    • Run regular promotions highlighting more nutritious — or new — options on the menu.
    • See the marketing and promotion ideas in the Build Interest section for more ideas.
  • Things that may take longer
    • Plan a cafeteria makeover.
    • Consider details like paint, signs, window dressing, different types of seating options, the food line, displays and the types of carts or kiosks you have (or may need to add) to make your nutritious eating program a success.
    • ⚠️ Note: Be sure to work with your principal, custodial staff, and facilities manager as some projects like painting must be done by district personnel.

Vending/Concession Areas

Meet with your team to discuss options on where to start. Use your work from Step 1.

  • Survey coaches, sports teams, clubs, and other groups that use the school during non-school hours. 
    • Are there students who need access to nutrient-rich snacks after the cafeteria has closed?
    • Can you add more nutrient-rich options to concession stands ?
    • Are your vending machines in compliance with the Smart Snacks in School standards?
  • Plan promotions and other strategies to improve your vending and concession options.
    • Work with your school nutrition professionals to discuss nutrient-rich options to offer in vending machines that students may like better than the current offerings. For example, consider adding part-skim string cheese, bagged baby carrots or low-fat yogurt.
    • Share! Check out and share this success story about one school district that made tremendous changes to its vending machine offerings, including nutritious snacks and nutrient-rich reimbursable meals.
    • ⚠️ Note: There are funds available that can help you acquire the equipment and resources you need to implement these ideas.

Step 3: Keep it Going

Over time, keep thinking about new ways to get more students to make healthy choices.

Conduct the same survey you did at the beginning of the Play to see what improvements you have made. Use anecdotal feedback as well. You may want to do this again and again. Maybe it’s once a semester or once a year, but the goal is to continually make improvements over time.

Who Can Help

You are not in this alone. There are many people who can help make this Play a success. For this Play you will need the help of your school nutrition professionals. Meet with them first to talk about the goals of the Play and what seems the most “doable” in your school. Here’s a list of who can help and some specific ways they can do that.

School Nutrition Professionals

  • Help with strategy and nutritious food selection
  • Help plan cafeteria improvements
  • Help educate students about their nutrition


  • Approve plans, time lines and promotions
  • Engage with teachers, coaches and school nutrition staff to get their support
  • Encourage student participation

School Facilities Managers and Custodians

  • Provide information and advice about equipment locations
  • Help with any logistical considerations


  • Volunteer to help with painting and other tasks
  • Encourage student participation

Coaches and Club Advisors

  • Organize their teams or clubs to help with painting, reorganizing and promotions


  • Volunteer to help with improvements and promotions
  • Raise awareness and participate in polling and student engagement


  • Volunteer to help with cafeteria improvements

Community Businesses

  • Donate materials and/or food to help with the efforts (kiosks or carts, paint and other remodeling supplies, banners and signage, etc.)

⚠️ Note: Be sure to work with the school nutrition professionals before starting this Play so that everyone is clear on the goals and sees it as a positive step for improving student nutrition rather than a “judgment” about the current environment.

As with any game that’s worth playing and winning, you are bound to run into challenges. That's why getting help from others is so important. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals when everyone works together.

Build Interest

Organize some nutritious snack awareness activities during lunch periods. 

  • Build an awareness campaign — “Nutritious Food Is Only Nutritious if It’s Eaten!” Remind students to help protect our planet by not taking more than they plan to eat. This can reduce waste and help students to be sure they eat what they take.
  • Working with school nutrition professionals, identify areas of the cafeteria — such as the salad bar, the milk cooler and so on — where decorations, signs and promotions can highlight nutrient-rich choices.
    • After you’ve identified areas to target, your team can create signs that provide clear and easy-to-understand information about the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods.
      • The school nurse, health educators and nutrition professionals can help you find accurate information and explain it in the right way. Be sure to make the signs fun!
      • Formats like trivia quizzes that test students’ knowledge of nutritious food facts are a great way to get people’s attention and spark their interest in trying new things.
    • Survey students to identify the areas they would like to see changed in the school nutrition program — and don’t forget to ask why.
    • These explanations may reveal additional opportunities to provide nutritious food choices in the school.
    • Don’t forget that it is important also to consider all the foods sold in school stores and vending machines, at school-sponsored events, and through fundraisers.


Simple is good. Develop a plan for promoting more nutritious choices. Below are some simple strategies that may help encourage students to make smarter eating choices. 

  • Create verbal prompts (e.g., simply ask someone if he or she wants a serving of fruit or milk) or visual prompts (e.g., posters, table tents or permanent signs) in the cafeteria line. Make the signage colorful and use pictures of healthy foods.
  • Make access to more healthful food choices easier.
    • This can be as simple and cost-free as moving around existing coolers or food service displays.
    • Another strategy is to store healthier options in newer or more attention-grabbing displays like a milk cooler decorated with fun and colorful signs that talk about the benefits of nutrient-rich, low-fat and fat-free milk.
    • Does your school offer flavored milk? Check out this Flavored Milk FAQ and 1 Percent Chocolate Milk in Schools, which explain why doing so can be a good option!
  • Create displays, like posters, slide shows or other ideas for the nutritious choices available in the cafeteria and place them in easy-to-access locations on the lunch line.

Share Your Results

Share highlights and data from your Go Nutritious program.

  • Have students create posters showcasing your program and display them in high-traffic areas such as hallways, cafeterias and classrooms.
  • Distribute information and promote your cafeteria makeover progress during the morning announcements.
  • Get the word out on your school’s website or blog, in your school newsletter or student newspaper and on social media!
  • Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @FUTP60) and using #FuelGreatness!
  •  Before or after you work on this Play, contact your local news station and see if a reporter would be interested in coming to your school to do a story on the Play and your team’s activities. You can learn about news production and inspire students at other schools at the same time.

Set new goals.

  • Set long-term goals for your makeovers, involve students in the planning and give students opportunities to create their own public service videos.
  • See how Southside Middle School is spreading the word about their experience with this Play and get some ideas of your own!

Think long term.

  • Take photos and videos of the projects as you work on them and ask that these be posted on the school website. You may even reach out to local newspapers or local news websites to highlight the good work you are doing.


This section features ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about ideas for differentiating between older and younger students and ways to bring in the family connection.

Build student leadership opportunities. As much as possible, have students do the planning and run your programs (How to Engage Students PDF Guide).

For Students

  • Have students visit local businesses to ask for help with design ideas and supplies, and maybe even pitch in with the work! Lots of companies love to have their employees participate in community activities. It could help develop long-term relationships in the community and maybe even lead to students exploring different careers through these contacts.
  • Look into the possibility of students earning service learning hours. 
  • Work with your team to talk with coaches and club team sponsors about their fundraising activities.
    • Using the information you have about what snacks students like and will eat, discuss with your school’s nutrition professionals and club or team sponsors how to include more nutritious items into your school’s fundraising activities.
    • Remember that fundraisers don’t always have to involve food. Consider options like car washes and endurance activities (dance-a-thon, walking challenge, etc.), especially those that get kids active!

Put students in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable life lessons on how to plan and implement programs, and they’ll feel great about helping your school!

For Everyone

  • Contribute ideas for areas in and outside the cafeteria that can be improved.
  • Volunteer to help with some part of the makeover project — from painting to making signs.
  • Create posters to highlight nutrient-rich eating options. 
  • Help secure funding or donations from local businesses and grant programs like Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60.
  • Provide input on which snack offerings could be improved.

Bring in the PTA/PTO

Work with your school’s PTA or PTO to implement some of the ideas in the PTA Healthy Lifestyles Initiative. Meet with the parent-teacher organization and see if they will volunteer to take this on! Report back with notes and information about student choices.