Making Room to Eat: Revisiting the School Lunchroom

by room2learn

“To create an inviting dining ambiance that encourages healthy interaction and healthy eating — a place that students enjoy, that makes the lunch period a time they look forward to, and that helps them feel safe and valued at mealtime.” (Center for Ecoliteracy, 2010)

It’s no secret — lunchrooms can be loud and dynamic! This makes perfect sense when young people, cooped up in stuffy classrooms all day, are let loose to roam free. For most students, lunch breaks are for refueling, relaxing, socializing, and building community. However, there are certain lunchroom design elements that can help create a more positive overall dining experience. According to the Center for Ecoliteracy, a typical student eats more than 4,000 school lunches from kindergarten to end of high school — that’s more than 5.5 billion lunches served annually in the US alone! Since lunch time is such a significant time part of the average school day, it’s becoming more and more important for schools and educators to think about how traditional dining halls can be transformed into modern community dining spaces.

While it may not be possible to entirely refurbish your school’s lunchroom for the next academic year, there are many cost-effective and practical solutions that can help you create a more positive dining experience.

With the next few rooms, we will show you how to make cafeterias more inviting for the senses!

Sight

One of the easiest ways to change your lunchroom is to modify the physical space to make the environment more appealing to the eyes. Some redesign options include adding color to walls and surrounding materials (choose colors to create different moods) and inviting students to be in charge of decorating the spaces. While you’re at it, why not display some student artwork too?

Depending on the setup of your school, having a shaded outdoor cafeteria for students to eat outdoors, like the one at High Tech High Chula Vista, is another plus! When the weather is nice out, students can not only enjoy their lunch with fresh air, but also stay cool under this bright orange canopy.

Feel

To enhance the overall dining experience, considering using cloth napkins and reusable plates and utensils in the cafeteria. By avoiding disposable products, you are also reducing the waste at the same time.

When possible, designing cafeterias to look more like cafes helps make the space more inviting. Above, Innovation MS introduced a hot bar at their school, which helped get rid of lunch lines. They also added food source labels to the hot bar stations to promote healthy, local eating by informing students about the foods’ origin and its nutritional values.

Good Studio has implemented many changes that have updated the overall feel of the lunchroom. For example, they replaced lunch lines with a “courses” system where students can choose from different menu items (e.g. carrots or broccoli, tofu or chicken, etc.) like in a restaurant. This new system allowed students to try new food items, reduced food waste, and made the overall dining experience more enjoyable.

Smell

Schools often use chlorine and other alcohol-based cleansers to wipe down and sanitize tables and floors. We want to keep those surfaces squeaky clean, but don’t want the dreaded chlorine scent! Not to mention all the toxins roaming the air. Don’t want students to lose their appetite? Try using environmentally-friendly and biodegradable cleaning products that are not heavily scented. Your students, teachers, and especially janitorial staff will thank you for it.

Sound

According to research conducted by Julia Wolfson from John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, students tend to eat more vegetables and whole grains in quieter cafeterias. When possible, adding sound insulation or softer table coverings and floor surfaces can keep the noise level down. For students with significant sensory sensitivities, you can designate a quiet corner of the cafeteria with some calming music or decor.

Boston University Academy has a beautifully serene cafeteria, where the large windows let in plenty of natural light and give view to a calming waterfall and garden. No matter the weather, students can dine with natural light and greenery!

As you can see, dining halls can be comfortable and fun spaces where students enjoy eating and interacting with their peers. With a few simple hacks, you too can turn a seemingly dreary lunchroom into a community-friendly space.

Does your school have a creatively designed lunchroom? We want to hear about it! Share with fellow edu-innovators at room2learn.org and Tweet us at @HackClassrooms!

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