School District Offers Kids Prizes If They’ll Chow Down on Healthy Lunches

Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado is raffling off iPods and bikes to students who buy food with less salt and fat.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Dec 12, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Anyone who has ever dealt with a picky eater knows that bribery—if you eat these peas, I’ll let you have a cookie—can only get you so far. Sooner or later, the kid is likely to up the ante and demand an ice cream sundae. But that isn’t stopping a Colorado school district from raffling off prizes such as movie tickets and iPods to students who decide to buy lunch at any campus cafeteria in town.

What’s being offered to these students isn’t the sodium and fat-laden tater tot and pizza meal of days gone by. Through its “Hungry to Win” incentive program, Jeffco Public Schools in Jefferson County, Colo., is trying to get kids to purchase lunches that adhere to healthier federal meal guidelines.

“With all the new regulations and the changes that we’ve made, our lunch participation has gone down,” Lori Burris, Jeffco Schools lunch facilitator, told 9News. “So this was to be an incentive to try school lunch and maybe bring them back.” Along with the movie tickets and iPods, students can also win jump ropes, bicycles, and iTunes gift cards—but only if they purchase a meal.

Students are “used to something a little different,” Burris said. “So we wanted to encourage them to come back and try it and show them that it really tastes good. It’s just a bit different.”

According to Burris, fewer students in the district have been buying food prepared in the county’s school cafeterias because lunch trays feature more vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains and have less salt and fat. Compared with this time last year, lunch sales had dropped 6 percent, she said.

Although new choices, such as whole-grain pasta, that are being offered by Jeffco Public Schools and other districts across the country are better for kids, students have rebelled against them. In late November the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama lit up social media with students tweeting unappetizing pictures of their food. The first lady has championed the new guidelines as part of her efforts to reduce childhood obesity. However, it is actually legislation passed by Congress and enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that mandates schools to ditch the burgers and fries.

Burris told the news station that in the few weeks since the district began implementing the raffle program, there has been a 4 percent jump in lunch sales. Of course, a savvy student could purchase the food just to get the raffle ticket and then chuck the entire meal in the trash. But the district plans to keep the raffle going next semester.