By Karen Dittrich, Creatif Leaf Marketing


Food not only nourishes the body and mind, but it can also be used as a catalyst to create sustainable school communities where students gain knowledge about healthy sustainable living throughout the school grounds, which they can bring into their homes and community.

I have been working in K-12 school food environments nationwide for many years and I have found that providing educational opportunities and healthy food choices throughout schools can greatly support the pathway to establishing sustainable school communities.  By engaging students, their families, and school staff to participate in food, nutrition, and sustainability education together it can lead to everyone making better choices for healthier lifestyles and a cleaner environment.

Marketing approaches are changing and engagement marketing has become more prevalent recently for good reason. Approaches are shifting from talking at people to engaging with people to build strong, long-term, and personalized relationships with customers. Unlike traditional marketing approaches where prospects are targeted with direct response deals, engagement marketing allows potential customers to interact and decide how they would like to proceed with a brand or program. Engagement marketing begins when a person is interested in a product or initiative and then decides to take action and engage. After providing relevant information, it is the consumers’ choice on how to proceed, making this approach much more readily accepted by members of Gen Z (today’s students) and their families.

So how can we use engagement marketing to build sustainable school food environments?

Building programs or planning events where food related topics are used as a vehicle to provide food, nutrition, and environmental education can achieve engagement. This may be done in the school dining room, kitchen, classrooms, school garden, and throughout the school community.

These are a few ideas to encourage engagement:

  • Get everyone cooking! Start a culinary program for students and have them participate in preparing school meals daily.  Also, invite families to participate in after-school cooking classes.
  • Highlight local foods on the menu and invite farmers to participate in events at school to make the farm to school connection.
  • Offer sampling and tastings to create awareness of new menu items and fresh, seasonal food offerings.
  • Ask dietetic interns or graduate students and food experts to come into the classrooms and teach students and teachers about food and nutrition.
  • Incorporate food teaching into the school curriculum through school gardens, aquaponics systems, and vermicomposters at waste diversion areas.
  • Encourage families to track food waste at home so they can make better financial and environmental choices outside of school.
  • Invite local guest chefs, including parent guest chefs, to cook at school.
  • Communicate events and food information through newsletters, social media, websites, and press releases to tell the sustainable food story.


After implementing some of these ideas you will find that from the student perspective, it is all about the food. Students will want to eat foods that look and taste good. Families will be supportive of school initiatives and confident that their children are getting wholesome meals at school.

Making a world that is better for everyone needs to start with our youth. By teaching them to make good decisions now, we may not need to make changes down the road. Teaching students about where foods come from and providing them with hands-on learning opportunities will better position them to make healthier choices and contribute to a cleaner environment now and in the future.