School Cafeteria Decorating Ideas

Young children in line for school cafeteria
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Students spend a great deal of time in cafeterias during the school year, but the typically utilitarian rooms often provide little in the way of atmosphere. The lack of decor may reflect budgetary or time constraints. However, many inexpensive and easy ideas can provide a tremendous boost. You can ask a local service or parent organization to provide the funds and volunteer labor to complete a beautification project.

1 Outdoor Cafe

Turn the cafeteria into a cafe by painting extra large trompe l'oeil windows on the walls. In the windows, paint recognizable scenes from around the world, such as the Eiffel Tower or Great Wall of China, to create the illusion of looking out at another country. Add to the effect by hanging curtains or valances at the windows. Over and between the windows, paint greetings and the names of food items in that country's native language. Place comfortable seats or benches under the false windows for reading.

2 Papier Mache Food Art

Create a colorful hanging food display to brighten the cafeteria. Use balloons of different shapes and sizes, liquid starch and newspaper as the base for creating food art. After covering the balloons in several coats of liquid-starch-soaked newspaper, add other features such as leaves or stems using masking tape and cardboard, then paint the foods. Once dry, spray the papier mache foods with a paint sealer to protect them, and hang them using monofilament fishing line.

3 Food Pyramid Mural

Paint a food pyramid on the wall to remind students of healthy eating habits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a number of different printable graphics designed for different age groups from which you can obtain ideas for the painting. Paint large examples of healthy foods along the bottom of the pyramid similar to the official government food pyramid version to serve as visual reminders to students. Create an attention-getting title about healthy eating for the display and paint it above the pyramid on the wall.

4 Outdoor Garden

Create the feeling of an outdoor garden in the cafeteria with silk and paper plants. Use long strips of green butcher or bulletin board paper to create vines to hang across the ceiling. Twist the green strips into long vines. Use tissue paper to create flowers and attach them to the vines with chenille stems. Spray the flower-filled vines with a paper or paint protector, and hang them across the ceiling. Purchase silk trees to place around the cafeteria perimeter. Place pebbles in clay pots to weigh them down and fill the pots with bright silk flowers. Decorate cafeteria tables with the flower pots to complete the garden theme.

Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."