Aramark Education rolled out its new Cool*Caf elementary school dining environment in 60 sites in January after a successful 16-school pilot last fall. The concept represents a major initiative to update and invigorate K-6 dining, a segment where traditionally higher participation rates relative to secondary schools has tended to reduce the incentive to make major changes.
However, as pressures to increase the nutrition quality of meal choices, combined with growing operational challenges. (Aramark research shows elementary students are typically only allotted an average of 23 minutes for lunch). Such constraints, and an increasingly sophisticated and picky customer base, prompted the company to develop a program that could balance the different needs.
“Working with students, parents and teachers, we have created a dining environment that truly reflects the needs and preferences of the entire school community,” says Cathy Schlosberg, vice president of marketing and strategic development.
“Parents and teachers appreciate the wellness menus and nutrition education, while students are thrilled with the fun café makeover, the menu variety and the increased time to eat and socialize with friends,” she adds.
Cool*Caf menus have been designed to exceed USDA and state-level nutrition guidelines with a series of low- and non-fat dairy options, lean protein choices, access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, increased fiber from whole grain products and reduced sodium.
Meanwhile, redesigned service lines and new express options for students looking to purchase milk or to access the fruit and vegetable bar are intended to alleviate long lines and short service periods. In addition, Sack Lunches with hot and cold food items supplement the choices for those in a hurry.
To balance the teaching environment desired by adults with the social priorities of children, Cool*Caf uses bright colors, animation and student-inspired themes and messaging to promote good health while maintaining a vibrant, “fun” setting.
A series of elementary nutrition mascots have been designed to campaign for healthy eating through a monthly program of live shows, posters and other materials distributed to students that communicate the importance of nutrition, exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
The results from the pilot sites were highly encouraging, with some sites showing a 50 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, a 30 percent increase in speed of service and a 10 to 30 percent increase in meal participation.
The company plans to continue the rollout to several hundred more schools next fall.