Creating Resources Uplifting Nutrition, Culture, and Health at Lunch (CRUNCH Lunch) is an innovative program to increase’s elementary school students Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) interest and food literacy by connecting STEM with the everyday act of eating school lunch. CRUNCH Lunch is being developed and evaluated using a diverse, urban elementary school aged population, with over 15,000 students and over 700 teachers. Through professional development, teachers examine their beliefs surrounding school lunch, develop an understanding of the benefits of school, learn evidenced-based methods to link STEM topics to school lunch, and receive robust web-based supports, which is systematically connected STEM to school lunch for the first time.
Students relate to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects when they are linked to real- life experiences. School lunch can be that link. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), initially conceived as a poverty reduction program, has the potential to be so much more. Meals served through the NSLP make up a large portion of the diets of ~30 million students. Research shows that school meals are the healthiest meals of the day for many children in the United States. Yet, the NSLP and academics have never been integrated. Creating Resources Uplifting Nutrition, Culture, and Health at Lunch (CRUNCH Lunch) makes this connection by linking STEM with the real-world and relatable experience of school lunch. CRUNCH Lunch will be evaluated in a diverse and urban elementary school-aged population (~15,840 students). The long-term goal of the proposed study is to bring STEM to students in a relatable and culturally relevant way to: increase early interest in STEM, improve food literacy, and increase school lunch consumption. It is known that evidence-based nutrition education enables elementary school students to improve food literacy, which leads to improved health outcomes. It is also known that science education that is relatable and culturally relevant increases interest in STEM. Creating STEM interest among young children increases the likelihood of students maintaining their interest as they get older, thus potentially increasing the pipeline of students entering STEM careers. What is not known is whether providing professional development to elementary school teachers to deliver connect STEM learning to required science units, and providing teachers access to curricular resources to integrate school lunch with STEM will improve: students’ interest in STEM, food literacy, and consumption of school lunch. The specific aims are, Aim 1: Create CRUNCH Lunch Teacher Workshops. These professional development workshops (delivered in person or via video conferencing) empower teachers to combine inquiry- based STEM education with evidence-based nutrition education, to improve their attitudes and confidence in STEM and in connecting education to school lunch. Aim 2: Create a CRUNCH Lunch Resource Hub (web- based). This robust and comprehensive professional development Resource Hub provides teachers with ongoing support to apply what they learned in the workshops (Aim 1) to increase students’ STEM and food- related attitudes, STEM and food literacy, and students’ consumption of school lunch. The proposed project is innovative because it will be the first to systematically link the NSLP to STEM academics. At the completion of the proposed study, we will measure (i) whether students have increased interest in STEM, improved food and STEM literacy, and increased consumption of school meals; and, (ii) whether teachers have improved attitudes and confidence in connecting STEM to school lunch.