7 ways marketing can help students make healthy choices in the lunchroom

What comes to mind when we say, “Marketing food and beverages to children”? Go on, take a second and let some pictures pop into your head.

You thought of all the unhealthy stuff, didn’t you? The advertising campaigns that push sugary drinks with no nutritional value? Fast food? Cute talking animals that sell addictive crunchy things that stain your fingers orange?

Girl with tray of healthy lunch items

What if we told you that you can use the power of marketing in the school lunchroom to improve kids’ eating habits? It’s proven:

  • Moving and highlighting fruit on the lunch line increased sales by up to 102%. 

  • Naming vegetables and displaying the names with the foods made students select them 40-70% more often.
White milk bottles on shelf in cooler

Here’s a look at 7 ways marketing can help you nudge students towards smarter choices at lunchtime:

  1. Display daily fruit options in the line of sight and reach of students. “Eye level is buy level” is the old marketing adage.
  2. Give all available vegetable options creative or descriptive names. We buy things that make us feel special, and food is no different. “X-Ray Vision Carrots” and “Vegetable Dunkers” get chosen more often than their generically named equivalents.
  3. Train all staff members, especially those serving, to politely prompt students to select and eat the daily vegetable options with their meal. It’s hard to say no to someone you like, especially face-to-face with them. All good salespeople know this. 

  4. Place white milk in front of other beverages in all coolers. “Eye level is buy level” again.
  5. Highlight alternative entrée options (e.g., salad bar, yogurt parfaits, etc.) on posters or signs within all service and dining areas. You offer amazing foods. Show them off.
  6. Use student surveys and taste testingopportunities to inform menu development, dining space décor, and promotional ideas. It’s basic market research. If you ask your customers, they’ll tell you what they want and what they’ll buy.
  7. Use daily announcements to promote menu options. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Marketing professionals know that we have to be exposed to an idea or product at least six times before we even register that we’ve heard of it.

It’s true that we’re up against all the marketing of the unhealthy food that came to mind a few minutes ago. Instead of begrudging the power behind it, let’s think about what we can learn from those marketing techniques to help students make healthy choices at lunchtime.


Want more ways to feed your students’ learning potential? Our guide, Healthy Students Achieve More, can help.