Hint: It’s more than just food.
From the classroom to the cafeteria, every school touchpoint makes an impact on student learning and development – especially a school’s dining program. It’s not just about what’s on the plate; the end-to-end dining experience includes environment, staff, service, choice, and overall feel. As a specialized managed food service provider, we find that our clients’ dining programs play a major role in overall student satisfaction, and represent a big part of the experience during their time at school.
For middle and high school students, the dining hall creates a crucial space for socialization and community building. An intentional, positive dining experience starts with a welcoming and inclusive environment where students feel comfortable gathering during the day. This sense of community is vital for high school students as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. The combination of rest and nutrition also helps tweens and teens maintain focus, concentration, and energy levels until it’s time to head home (and beyond).
For elementary school students, a strong school dining program can make a big impact when it comes to developing healthy eating habits. At this age, students are developing their palates and building the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating. Dining in community allows kids to both witness and model healthy habits for each other as they grow and develop. And just like older kids, school meal times are an important time for socialization and community building for younger ones.
As a specialized managed food service provider, we hear all sorts of feedback and anecdotal stories from our clients about just how much their dining program can influence a student’s day, week, month, and academic year.
How does a strong dining program impact students?
Let’s talk about it.
Improved Nutrition and Health
Good nutrition at school is more than a parent-pleaser; balanced eating is essential for proper brain development and can help students maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and improve their overall academic performance. School dining programs also create opportunities for students to try new foods and develop a diverse and healthy diet. And as a bonus for parents: trying a new dish with peers can lead to more adventurous eating at home.
Social Development and Community Building
The dining hall is often one of the few places where students can gather and socialize outside of the classroom. For many, it’s their favorite part of the day. Meal times are more than a welcome break for students (and teachers!), however. Having a dedicated time to connect with their peers, build relationships, and develop social skills is a crucial part of student development. That’s why making students feel comfortable and welcome is one of your dining program’s most important jobs. From friendly and welcoming staff to areas designed for connection, creating a sense of community in the dining hall fosters healthy social development, lifelong friendships, a strong student culture, and overall student satisfaction.
It’s true: your dining program can have a direct impact on your students’ day-to-day academic performance. Studies show that students who eat healthy meals throughout the day have better concentration, higher academic achievement, and improved cognitive function.
Whether you manage your school’s dining program in-house or partner with an outside organization to oversee your food service division, your dining program’s leadership should be keenly aware of just how much food service can impact overall student satisfaction. From nutrition and community to performance and social development, your dining program can be one of the most important and impactful functions of your school – if you leverage it.