​3 Tips for Boosting Meal Participation in Your School Lunch Program

For a school cafeteria, few conversations are as important as improving school lunches and increasing school meal participation. Ensuring high meal participation in your school lunch program is crucial to the well-being of students and is key to the overall success of your cafeteria operations.

In today's fast-paced world, ensuring students have access to nutritious meals that fuel their growing minds and bodies is more important than ever. However, getting students excited about school lunches can be challenging with busy schedules and ever-changing preferences.

Thankfully, there are practical strategies that schools can readily adopt to enhance meal participation and create lunch programs that students truly enjoy. At Metro, we're passionate about creating solutions that empower schools to thrive, so we’re sharing our favorite (and simple) tips to boost meal participation at your school.

The Importance of Increasing Meal Participation

The importance of school lunch programs cannot be overstated. Balanced nutrition throughout the day is crucial for academic and personal success, and new research even shows that children are getting their healthiest meals at school. 

School meal participation has many benefits, including reducing food insecurity, improving dietary intake, and improving health metrics such as obesity prevention. Millions of children in the US face food insecurity, and regular school meals help reduce hunger and prevent malnutrition. Healthy, balanced school lunches provide students with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and energy to succeed.

Increased meal participation is proven to benefit students, your lunch program, and the school at large. It boosts your school’s revenue, allowing you to invest more money in new equipment and more staff. Higher meal participation rates can also allow you to benefit from economies of scale to purchase better food at lower prices.

3 Ways to Boost Participation in School Meals

Is your school struggling with low participation in its school lunch program? You’re not alone. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to boost student participation.

Here are 3 tips to help you boost student participation in your school lunch program.

1. Offer Mobile Feeding

Mobile feeding creates new opportunities for student participation by meeting them where they are. Rather than limiting all food options to the cafeteria, mobile feeding allows students to access meals and snacks throughout the day, in classrooms, and in the hallway between classes.

Kids love convenience, and mobile feeding makes it easier to participate in meals despite busy schedules and large facilities—two factors that can make meal access more challenging. Here are some of the benefits of mobile feeding stations:

  • Increased awareness: By bringing food options to busy common areas, students who don’t typically buy lunches can see additional food options, increasing their likelihood of participation.
  • Easier access: When staff bring food to the students via mobile feeding, meal access becomes easier, encouraging more participation.
  • More flexibility: Mobile food carts offer flexibility to students and staff who want to avoid a potentially long lunch line. You can also quickly change offerings to fit inventory, seasonal availability, etc.

When choosing offerings for your mobile feeding stations, consider a variety of healthy options, including hot food, fresh fruit and vegetables, and

Products to help mobile feeding:

  • Mightylite top load: Keep hot and cold foods at safe temperatures for five hours with Metro’s insulated food carrier. Thanks to Mightylite’s lightweight construction, taking food and beverages on the go is easy. It’s also available in a front-load option.

2. Introduce Grab & Go Meals

Like mobile feeding, adding grab-and-go meals to your school lunch program adds convenience popular among students and staff. Grab-and-go refers to prepackaged meal options that students can quickly grab without waiting for made-to-order meals. Grab-and-go is particularly successful when it comes to breakfast, as students can quickly grab something to eat before heading to their classroom.

Here are some of the benefits of adding grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options to cafeteria food programs:

  • Increased convenience: Students who don’t have time to wait in a cafeteria line for a full meal are more likely to skip eating, especially breakfast. With grab-and-go options, students can easily fit a healthy meal into their schedule, even if they arrive at school late.
  • Less labor: Grab-and-go mealsbgenerally require less labor to support mealtimes and serving. This can be especially beneficial for schools facing labor shortages.

When choosing options for grab-and-go meals and snacks, we recommend engaging with the students to see what is most appealing to them. When the options resonate with the students, they will be more likely to participate in meals more often.

Here are some products to help you implement Grab & Go services:

  • Super Erecta Hot: This heated shelving solution keeps food hot, appetizing, and ready to go. It’s a must-have if you serve hot food items such as breakfast sandwiches, burgers, and pizza slices for grab-and-go meals.
  • Metro2Go Hot Stations: Metro hot stations help improve speed and efficiency when serving grab-and-go meals. Its pass-through design makes it easy to restock shelves and control inventory, and polycarbonate sliding doors add security and increase holding times.

3. Boost Breakfast

In addition to focusing on increasing participation in your school’s lunch program, you should also consider boosting breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and students who eat a healthy breakfast perform better at school. However, many families face obstacles to providing and eating a healthy breakfast, leaving many children hungry and unprepared to learn.

Schools that participate in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) receive reimbursement for the meals they serve. However, students may not participate in traditional cafeteria breakfast programs due to their bus schedule, late arrivals, and desire to socialize with friends before class. Fortunately, creative solutions such as mobile feeding and grab-and-go options can help increase breakfast participation.

Here are some benefits of improving your school breakfast program:

  • Improved performance: Students who eat breakfast at school tend to perform better academically, including improved concentration, memory, and learning.
  • Increased funding: Increasing breakfast participation can maximize USDA reimbursements and generate additional revenue.
  • More lunch participation: When more students order breakfast at school, they are more likely to buy a school lunch, further increasing lunch participation.

Much like with increasing lunch participation, the best way to ensure students participate in school breakfast is to make it convenient and enticing for them. Breakfast in the classroom, grab & go options, and second chance breakfast (offered after the first period for students unable to eat before the school day begins) are all methods that can successfully increase school breakfast participation.

Here are some products to help you boost your breakfast program:

  • Metro Breakfast Cart: This heavy-duty breakfast cart features a type 304 stainless steel top for easy cleaning and a wire center shelf that is easy to adjust when you change your breakfast offerings. The cart is available in three size options and comes with four 5" swivel stem casters with brakes to take breakfast on the go.

Improve School Meal Participation with Metro

At Metro, we're passionate about creating solutions that empower schools—and students—to thrive. We understand the critical role of a healthy and engaging school lunch program in student well-being and academic success, and we’re here to help. Implementing these 3 simple tips can help you create a successful school lunch program that nourishes students and increases participation.

Ready to transform your school lunch program? Metro offers cafeteria solutions to enhance efficiency, presentation, and student satisfaction. Visit our website to view all of our foodservice solutionsContact us or your local Metro rep today to discuss your specific needs and explore how we can boost your school's meal program!