Students Lead Massive Cafeteria Renovation To Give Lunch A Makeover

Students Lead Massive Cafeteria Renovation To Give Lunch A Makeover

In merging design, marketing and social media the My Food My Way Campaign is shifting food perceptions and attitudes in Toronto schools.

Lamya Hussain
  • 21 september 2012

PSFK recently wrote about how prison food is actually healthier than what we serve our kids for lunch. Toronto schools are undergoing a massive cafeteria renovation and the designers include its students. The Toronto District School Board along with the Toronto Education Workers union have been promoting a Healthy Learning Healthy Living Program that has inspired a cross-city My Food My Way Campaign. The initiative is brought to you by  K & Co.’s marketing firm that is using social media platforms to engage students to research and create cafeteria spaces that are functional, accessible and in line with the goals of healthy living. This unique concept merges marketing to endorse a city wide change in our food consumption and attitude. PSFK caught up with Ahmad Ktaech, Managing Director at K & Co. and the point man behind the marketing of My Food My Way.

Tell us about the ‘My Food My Way’ campaign.

My Food My Way is the first campaign to be introduced to target students between the ages 13 – 17. The initiative comes as a respons to the Healthy Learning Healthy Living Program that has been launched by the Toronto Education Workers and the Toronto District School Board. The goal of My Food My Way is to improve the culture of food in Toronto’s homes, schools, and communities. Avoiding the standard narrative around eating habits ( i.e. junk food vs healthy food) the campaign is approaching the cultural elements that play an integral role in our food choices. This form of understanding is also reflected in the Healthy Learning Healthy Living Program’s mandate which in specific seeks to improve the lifestyle of students, families, and communities in order to cultivate literacy around health and nutrition. The program premises on 6 main pillars in order to achieve the campaign goals. The pillars are:

  1. Community Outreach Partnerships
  2. Facilities
  3. Education, Curriculum and Learning
  4. Legal and Legislation
  5. Branding and Marketing
  6. Funding

In order to cultivate a culture of health and nutrition amongst students, we realize that we need to get them to re-evaluate their eating habits and take an interest in the food they eat; we do this by starting the conservation. What’s different about My Food My Way than other nutritious programs is that engagement is paramount to the success of the campaign.  Much of this has happened via social media tools, interactive discussion, literacy campaigns and through mobilizing students to encourage change within their school environment.

This engagement has already allowed the campaign to:

  • Begin building an active database of students that are interested in being My Food My Way Ambassadors in their schools and in their community.
  • Launch an advertising campaign that has been student driven.
  • Establish partnerships with celebrity figures, such as Chef Susur Lee.
  • Collaborate with the Toronto District School Board on launching the My Food My Way campaign fully in 3 pilot schools across the city with more to follow.

What role is social media playing in giving students agency in the re-designing process of their cafeteria menus?

Social media is playing an integral part not just in the promotion of the My Food My Way Campaign, but also in its development and its refinement. The first manifestation of this is the QR Code ad campaign that has blanketed the city’s libraries, schools and community centres. It’s aim is to gather data on how students culturally relate to food so that the My Food My Way Campaign can morph to reflect the findings.  An online survey has also been created and its promotion has just begun via high school student councils and through the My Food My Way Student Ambassadors. We have also launched a digital ad campaign across Toronto’s TTC stops that present unusual food facts to transit users in a 2-answer choice quiz.

We will continue to engage students using communication platforms and in particular social media so that they are able to connect with the campaign and respond to it. We are particularly excited about including voting functions via mobile and web applications, QR code integration and contests in student cafeteria menus.

Tell us about K & Co’s role in marketing the ‘My Food My Way’ Campaign.

Usually, branding and marketing is brought in to tackle projects of this scope at the end – after the strategy and direction has been solidified and agreed on. What’s unique about K & Co.’s involvement with the Healthy Learning Healthy Living program is that we have been brought on as a strategic partner to help in not only the execution, but in the action plan and engagement aspects of the campaign.

Our role includes providing leadership, development and consulting in the following areas:

  • Branding
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Experience Design
  • Mobile and Web Development
  • Research
  • Strategy

Share with us some of the concerns students have with their current cafeteria culture and how the campaign hopes to vocalize and alter these dynamics.

Students have been very vocal in what is missing in their cafeterias and what we can do to create a better experience through design. Some of the key highlights include:

  • Cafeteria design and setup as currently it doesn’t promote a modular design of sociability (i.e. movable furniture and warm lighting).
  • Food presentation (students, even those who have never tasted cafeteria food, have a negative association with it. We’re finding that presentation plays a big factor in the perception of how tasty a food is (or isn’t) to students).
  • Cost seems to play a prohibitive factor in choosing cafeteria food over private fast-food chains.
  • The atmosphere of cafeterias has forced some students to eat their lunch on the floor in front of their lockers. Recommendations ranged from the addition of music and Wi-Fi access during lunch period to providing a performance space for students (break dancing and theatre).

My Food My Way is going to address all of these concerns and most others that we continue to discover throughout the campaign in the next year. Strategically, it’s going to require various stakeholders to be on board to see these changes through (from institutions, to politicians to food production agents). The beauty of this campaign is that the 6 pillars are cautious of the importance of collaboration to achieve the goals of the program, which allows the brand to be truthful and honest in what it promises to the youth.

In inspiring a healthy eating culture amongst youth what specific eating patterns are being endorsed through this campaign, and how are schools responding to these changes?

My Food My Way is lucky to have the support of the school’s union (Toronto Education Workers) and the Toronto District School Board.  This allows the brand to work towards intrinsic change sincerely.

My Food My Way is striving for a long-term, sustainable change: the type of change that needs careful planning to ensure its viability. As a result of this mission, what we are endorsing is a healthy relationship with food amongst students because it’s evident that currently, there isn’t one. Once we establish this relationship, it’s our belief that students are smart enough to make better choices. It’s our belief that through our efforts, students will believe that a healthy burger tastes just as good as a fast-food burger, that the term foodie is not reserved for celebrity chefs and food critics, that being a food enthusiast is just as cool as being a techie, that food culture can be changed and in doing so, our behaviors can be modified. It’s a bold goal, but one that’s attainable.

 What is next for the My Food My Way Campaign.

  • A social engagement campaign that utilizes web and video technology to create an application that we foresee going viral .
  • Gamification of an incentive program that rewards students for making better choices that is carried out through mobile and web apps.
  • City-wide competitions amongst students for their chance to win the following:
    • An apprenticeship with Susur Lee for the summer.
    • The chance to have their winning dish featured in their school’s menu.

We are truly excited for all the many changes we are working towards in transforming not just cafeteria menus but rather food education and culture amongst the Toronto youth.

Thanks Ahmad!

My Food My Way



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