Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo

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 toward choosing 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 principles that use low or no-cost solutions with a focus on the cafeteria environment and the promotion of healthful eating behaviors.

About Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

What is the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement?–“It’s Not Nutrition until It’s Eaten”

The SLM was developed with the goal of creating research-based lunchrooms that guide healthy eating choices, which 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 smarter lunchrooms core values include:

  • No-cost and low-cost solutions
  • Lunchroom environment focus
  • Promotion of healthful eating behaviors
  • Sustainability

The six smarter lunchrooms 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 has promoted the SLM by applying research to school environments and creating the SLM National Office. Under the direction of the SLM National Office, the SLM has expanded to schools across the country. For more information, visit the SLM National Office website External link opens in new window or tab. which contains multiple resources and tool kits.

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 X-ray Carrots or Farm Fresh Veggie Mix) and display that name along with the vegetable in the cafeteria. In smarter lunchrooms studies, this simple activity, combined with displaying the name with the food, increased selection of the vegetable by up to 70 percent.

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 National Office Research web page External link opens in new window or tab..

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California

The SLM of California (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 a 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 in helping California child nutrition professionals design their lunch lines to market the school meal program, and to encourage students to enjoy eating healthier foods. The SLM implementation in California 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 lunch lines. 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 website 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

Complete the SLM National Office online training External link opens in new window or tab. to gain knowledge about the basics of the SLM and tips on how to implement the SLM.

Find out about in-person trainings near you by contacting the 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.. 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 implement evidence-based strategies that make the healthy choice the easy choice. Public health professionals, including those at SNAP-ED agencies, 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.

Get Technical Assistance

Schools can also contact the SLM of CA External link opens in new window or tab. to request a 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
Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff
Smarter Lunchrooms Movement
(External Source)
Smarter Lunchrooms Techniques
Food Service Director and Staff
Smarter Lunchrooms Movement
(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 Training Databases

To find additional online training databases, visit the:


Best Practices
Tool Kits
Plate Waste

Best Practices

Resource Description
A look book that provides easy and fun ideas for enhancing the lunchroom, showing examples from schools across the nation.
Slides with resources and photos from Illinois schools that implemented SLM.
Provides success stories of SLM implementation from the CDE 2015 Team Nutrition (TN) subgrantees.

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.
Washington Office of Public Instruction Smarter Lunchrooms Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab.(PDF)
Provides SLM resources, implementation strategies, recipes and examples from Washington schools.
Georgia School Nutrition Association Student Advisory Council Handbook External link opens in new window or tab.(PDF)
Provides a comprehensive handbook on how to start and maintain a Student Advisory Council. Involving students is one of the strategies on the SLM Scorecard.
Provides overarching tips on how to establish a Student Nutrition Action Committee to support SLM implementation.
SLM National Office Flavor Station Guides External link opens in new window or tab.
Provides several guides and resources on how to set up a flavor station in the cafeteria. Flavor stations are one of the strategies on the SLM Scorecard.

Plate Waste

Resource Description
Provides guidance regarding the use of share tables in Child Nutrition Programs and includes updated information from Senate Bill 557 signed into law and effective January 1, 2018.
Provides 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.
Provides an archived webinar on ways schools can reduce food waste, including successful strategies from California schools.
Offers guidance and other resources on conducting a tray waste study in schools.
Provides a comprehensive guide to conducting food waste audits in schools using student volunteers.
Montana Team Nutrition Recess Before Lunch Guide External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
Provides resources to implement recess before lunch, which is a proven strategy for reducing food waste in schools.

Provides a lesson plan for educators to engage students in preventing food waste and in supporting SLM.


Additional Resource Databases

The CDE Plate Waste Prevention in Child Nutrition Programs 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, September 30, 2020
Related Content
Recently Posted in Nutrition
  • Tip Sheet: CACFP Meal Service During COVID-19 (added 24-Nov-2020)
    The California Department of Education (CDE) Nutrition Services Division has created a new tip sheet to assist Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Operators who are conducting meal service during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • Use of FRPM Data for Funding Purposes 2020–21 (added 24-Nov-2020)
    This letter provides guidance to Local Education Agencies on the use of Free and Reduced-Price Meal (FRPM) applications for meal eligibility and funding purposes during the 2020–21 school year.
  • FRMP Requirements School Year 2020–21 (added 24-Nov-2020)
    Attachment to the Use of FRPM Data for Funding Purposes letter. Provides requirements for collecting free and reduced-price meal eligibility data used to determine supplemental and concentration grant funding based on meal program type.
  • COVID-19 Required Reporting CNP Assessment (added 20-Nov-2020)
    The USDA requires assessment information on the effectiveness of the waivers in providing improved services to program participants. The CDE NSD is requiring that program operators complete the CDE COVID-19 CNP Waivers Assessment survey.
  • 2020–21 CACFP Mandatory Training (added 20-Nov-2020)
    Announcement for the 2020–21 Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Mandatory Training.

  • Annual Sponsor Verification Report for 2020–21 (added 20-Nov-2020)
    On November 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended the School Food Authority (SFA) deadline to complete verification to February 28, 2021.
  • Funding Opportunity: Farm to School Grants (added 19-Nov-2020)
    CDE Nutrition Services Division is pleased to announce that the USDA has released their Request for Applications for $10 million in Farm to School grants to create and strengthen F2S programs for Federal Fiscal Year 2021.
  • MB: California State Meal Mandate (added 17-Nov-2020)
    Management Bulletin (MB) SNP-11-2020 California State Meal Mandate, is available and supersedes Management Bulletin NSD-SNP-01-2009 (December 2009).
  • October 20, 2020 Tuesday at 2 Webinar (added 17-Nov-2020)
    California Department of Education (CDE) Nutrition Services Division (NSD) hosted the twelfth Tuesday @ 2 School Nutrition Town Hall webinar on October 20, 2020.
  • California's State Meal Mandate (added 16-Nov-2020)
    California's State Meal Mandate - 2020 Noncongregate Feeding Guidance.