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Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

Includes information about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, how to get started, online training opportunities, helpful resources, and contact information.


A smarter lunchroom is one that influences students to choose healthier, more nutritious foods. Smarter lunchrooms give students an opportunity to select and consume a balanced diet, while providing them with a spectrum of choices. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) applies research-based approaches that use low or no-cost strategies in the cafeteria environment to promote healthy eating behaviors.

About Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

What is the SLM? “It’s Not Nutrition until it’s Eaten”

The SLM is research-based with the goal of creating lunchrooms that guide healthy eating choices that are also sustainable and low-cost. It is a grassroots movement for those who are concerned about the way children eat and wish to help change unhealthy behaviors.

The SLM focuses on strategies that are:

  • No-cost and low-cost
  • Focused on the lunchroom environment
  • Promotion healthful eating behaviors
  • Sustainable

The six SLM principles aim to:

  • Manage portion sizes
  • Increase convenience
  • Improve visibility
  • Enhance taste expectations
  • Use suggestive selling
  • Set smart pricing strategies

How It Began

The SLM started in October 2010 as a result of a partnership between the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. This partnership produced the Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center). The BEN Center promoted the SLM by applying research to school environments and creating the SLM National Office, which has provided multiple resources and toolkits to schools across the country.

How It Works

The SLM principles and practices are easy to implement. Schools can arrange their lunchrooms to nudge students toward nutritious foods by making some simple changes. For example, when a school wants to increase the number of students who choose to eat vegetables with their lunch, the school can use the SLM approach by encouraging students to come up with creative names for the vegetable dishes (such as Farm Fresh Veggie Mix) and display that name along with the vegetable in the cafeteria.

The Evidence

The best practices and lunchroom solutions that the SLM endorses have been studied and proven effective in a variety of schools across the country. To learn more about the evidence, visit the SLM of California (SLM of CA) web page External link opens in new window or tab..

The SLM of CA

The SLM of CA supports a sustainable, statewide system to provide SLM training and webinars, technical assistance, and web-based resources to California child nutrition professionals and other school community stakeholders.

In August 2013, the California Department of Education (CDE) became a founding partner of the SLM of CA, along with the Dairy Council of California, the University of California CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, the California Department of Public Health, and the California Food Policy Advocates. Working closely with the BEN Center to establish a statewide infrastructure, the CDE supported the rollout of the SLM of CA by collaborating with the SLM of CA partners in: (1) conducting multiyear, regional SLM workshops for child nutrition professionals; (2) launching a Technical Advising Professional (TAP) training and certification system; and (3) establishing an SLM of CA strategic planning process to sustain the collaboration.

Based on the leadership role of the CDE in the successful SLM of CA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service awarded the CDE a 2015 Team Nutrition (TN) Training Grant to enhance SLM in selected California school districts. The CDE awarded subgrants to 48 California schools in 24 school districts to conduct site assessments, provide staff training, develop SLM action plans, partner with TAPs to implement SLM and related nutrition education activities, conduct evaluations, and to report on success. On average, these TN schools increased their SLM implementation scores by 46 percent, and conducted 7.5 nutrition education interventions during School Year 2016–17.

The CDE continues to support the SLM of CA by helping California child nutrition professionals design their lunch lines to market the school meal program, and encourage students to enjoy eating healthier foods. The SLM of CA is based on the philosophy that a single training is not enough to help child nutrition staff navigate the challenges they face in making changes to their meal service strategies. Through the SLM of CA, child nutrition professionals complete training and are then connected to certified TAPs that provide need-based support including site visit assessments, frontline staff training, free resources, and guidance in obtaining support from their stakeholders.

For more information about the SLM of CA, please visit the SLM of CA web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Get Started

Getting started is easy. Here a few ways to begin using the SLM practices.

Get Training

To gain knowledge about the basics of the SLM and tips on how to implement the SLM contact the SLM of California (SLM of CA) External link opens in new window or tab..

Assess Your Lunchroom

Complete a self-assessment using the new Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF). The Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard contains 60 simple, no-cost or low-cost strategies that lunchrooms can use to increase participation, improve consumption of healthy food, and reduce food waste. Schools can use the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard to assess and guide the implementation of evidence-based strategies that make the healthy choice the easy choice. Public health professionals, including those health departments, education departments, universities, extension, and obesity prevention programs also can use the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard to measure improvements to the school nutrition environment. SLM of CA activities are also approved for use in CalFresh Healthy Living programs.

Get Technical Assistance

Schools can also contact the SLM of CA External link opens in new window or tab. to request a Technical Advising Professional (TAP) to assist them in completing the scorecard, developing a plan, and accessing low-cost and free resources to help with implementation.


Online Trainings
Additional Online Training Databases

Online Trainings

Course Name Training Topic Target Audience
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff
Cornell University
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff
Cornell University
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff

Additional Online Trainings

To find additional online trainings, visit the SLM of CA Webinars and Trainings web page External link opens in new window or tab..


Best Practices
Tool Kits
Plate Waste

Best Practices

Resource Description
Provides success stories of SLM implementation from the CDE 2015 Team Nutrition (TN) subgrantees.
Tools for implementing SLM, assessments, success stories, and photos of best practices.
Quick reference guide to getting started with SLM practices.

Tool Kits

Resource Description
Provides schools with the knowledge, motivation, and support needed to use SLM principles and practices to build a lunchroom environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice for all students.

Plate Waste

Resource Description
Provides guidance regarding the use of share tables in Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) and includes updated information from Senate Bill 557 signed into law and effective January 1, 2018.
A handout that can be used to briefly convey the role that schools play in reducing food waste, and other information about school food waste solutions.
An archived webinar on ways schools can reduce food waste, including successful strategies from California schools.
A comprehensive guide to conducting food waste audits in schools using student volunteers.
Resources to implement recess before lunch, which is a proven strategy for reducing food waste in schools.

A lesson plan for educators to engage students in preventing food waste and in supporting the SLM.

Additional Plate Waste Resources

The CDE Plate Waste Prevention in CNP web page provides multiple resources to prevent plate waste in schools.


For more information, or if you have questions, please contact the Nutrition Services Division by phone at 800-952-5609 or by email at

Follow @CDENutrition on Twitter.

Subscribe to the School Nutrition Program Mailing List.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 18, 2023
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