Ammerman leads ‘Food Explorers’ in NC schools, helps kids choose healthy school lunches

Sept. 4, 2013
Dr. AmmermanA research team led by Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has instituted a new program this fall called Food Explorers, a social marketing campaign designed to promote healthy lunch menus and increased fruit and vegetable consumption in Rockingham County (N.C.) Schools.

Funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina and the Reidsville (N.C.) Area Foundation, Food Explorers is a partnership between the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which Ammerman directs, the Rockingham County School System and nationally renowned chef, Cyndie Story.

The campaign is deployed in tandem with upgrades to school cafeteria equipment, new fruit and vegetable recipes, and training in child nutrition for cafeteria staff members.
“Interventions aimed at changing school food in the past have not focused on marketing the changes to kids, parents and members of the school’s staff,” said Linden Thayer, nutrition doctoral student at the Gillings School and project manager of the study. That often means that school lunch programs lose student participation because students and parents are upset by unsolicited menu changes.
“We focus on selling the idea of changes to the school lunch menu to children, teachers and parents to try to prevent backlash and promote the new healthy options,” Thayer said.
So far the program has been a huge hit among students, parents, and staff alike.
Third and fourth grade students in the program are issued an Explorers Passport at the beginning of the year and receive fruit and vegetable trading cards every week. When students try one of 39 new fruits and vegetables offered in the lunchroom, they will receive a stamp in their passports. Students then review the new foods and decide on their favorites. They can become Master Explorers and earn rewards if they participate in the passport program and try new food throughout the school year.
“We believe the Master Explorers incentive program will significantly increase student consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Thayer said.
The pilot program will continue until spring 2014, when researchers will compile data to determine the program’s impact.
Learn more on the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention website.  

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or