Summer Meal Programs Fight Hunger with Nutritious Food and Innovation

By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Communications, Administration for Children and Families (HHS)

Blog Pic

Summer meals help close the nutrition gap children face when schools let out for summer – when children no longer receive school meals they relied on throughout the school year.

When I was young, summers seemed to last forever. Days were long and hot in rural South Texas.

One thing I looked forward to after riding my bicycle all over the neighborhood was a nice lunch prepared by my grandmother Angelita. Meals like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) or carne guisada(stewed meat) with a side of beans provided the energy I needed to keep up with an adventurous summer.

Good food not only helps your body climb hills when you’re a kid, but it helps your brain develop in order to learn new stuff.  For some children in our communities, though, not enough healthy food is available for them to enjoy and help them grow. Luckily, a very helpful program exists that communities can use to tackle this problem: USDA’s Summer Meal Programs.

Summer Meal Programs help close the nutrition gap children face when schools let out for summer — when children no longer receive school meals they relied on throughout the school year. USDA reports that 22 million children and teens receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program. But only about 1 in 5 of those (around 3.8 million) participate in summer meal programs.

USDA makes it easy for children, parents and community leaders to find the nearest summer meal site through its Summer Meal Site Finder. This free, web-based application features an easily-searchable map to help locate sites serving summer meals. The site locator is available in English and Spanish, and it includes a mobile version.

You can also call 1-866-348-6479 (English) or 1-877-842-6273 (Spanish) to find a site near you.  You can also text FOOD (for English) or COMIDA (for Spanish) to 877-877 to find a meal site near you during the summer.

I appreciate and support this program, especially because USDA is focused on increasing summer meal sites in rural and tribal areas where access is sometimes a problem. In the last four years, USDA has provided technical assistance to a select group of states each year to increase the participation of eligible children in the program. This year USDA is working closely with Delaware, Minnesota and Nebraska, as well as Tribal lands in the Southwest Region.

A combination of factors, including high rates of food insecurity, poverty rates, and recommendations from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Regional Offices and anti-hunger advocacy groups, led to the selection of these areas to receive technical assistance to address hunger and access issues. USDA is working to address capacity and interest in these areas to expand summer meal programs.

From forging innovative partnerships to creative problem-solving remedies, the folks at USDA are coming up with different ways to connect youth to healthy meals. From retrofitting buses to overcoming transportation issues, to tapping into community volunteerism to increase site access, to operating mobile sites in rural areas to close the gap between children and healthy meals, USDA is working collaboratively with states, sponsors and partners to close the summer meal gap.

Parents can trust that these summer meal sites will provide a nutritious meal in a community setting that will keep youth engaged. Make plans now to help your community connect with this valuable service. Let’s allow every child to experience summers they will never forget!

The original post, by Tony Craddock, Program Analyst, Food and Nutrition Services can be found on the USDA Blog Site.

Currently, there are over 700 sites in Ohio that offer Summer food service programs. All children, ages 1-18, are eligible to receive free meals during the summer months at participating program sites.

Click HERE for more information regarding the Ohio Summer Food Service Program and participating sites.


Tips for Taking Great School Nutrition Photos

Photographs allow us to document a moment so that experience can be shared with others. A good photo can educate and inspire. It can spark an idea in some else, or remind you of a moment of interest or inspiration.

Use photos to educate others about your school nutrition projects – and to inspire support for child nutrition. With your ever-present camera phone, capturing good photos can be done in a matter of seconds.

To make the most of your shots, follow these 6 basic tips:

Lighting is (super) important

Good lighting is essential to good photography – and natural lighting is the best. In cafeterias, use indirect sunlight from a window or skylight to illuminate the subject of your photos. Try moving food items closer to sunlight before taking pictures. Be careful, though, to avoid direct sunlight; this might create shadows on your composition.

Now let’s be realistic about sunlight and the cafeteria. Most of our serving areas and merchandisers will need to be photographed using artificial light. Overhead lights can cast a yellowish film over the subject matter. Try placing a light source to the side or behind the object.

Play with different angles

Just like people, food and spaces have better angles! For food photographs – like salad bars and meal trays – “top down” angles tend to work best. Place your camera over the item and snap.


Use a top down angle when taking photos of food

For subject matter like signs, people and dining areas, create interest and balance by applying the Rule of Thirds. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have a grid with 9 small squares. Place your subject matter at one of the four places where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.

K.I.S.S. your composition

Keep it simple – superstar! Limit distractions in your frame. Before you hit the red button – look around the composition. Remove the distractions – maybe a utensil, the crumbled napkin or a peeling wall sign.

Plain backgrounds also let the composition shine. Place food on a white napkin or light colored tray.

Move in close

Pictures that grab attention include interesting details. To capture the different shades of an apple, or the elements of a sign, step in close. Fill the frame with the subject.

Robert Capa, a photographer and photojournalist repeatedly observed, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Take a wide view too

Wide or panoramic views document set-up, placement and flow. This larger view of information can assist in planning and evaluating your Team Nutrition project. Before starting a redesign, take a few pictures that can be referenced later, after the update is complete.

Focus and REPEAT

An out of focus image is of little, to no, use. After picking the shot, adjusting the composition, and stepping in close – give the camera a moment to focus. Once it’s ready – snap.

Finish off the moment with our best piece of photography advice – take multiple shots of the same view. Keep one or two of the best photos; discard the remaining shots.

Need some inspiration? Here are three Instagram accounts that have been recognized for their food photographs. Enjoy!

Go For The Bronze, Silver or Gold With Your Snacks

The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) recognizes schools that go above and beyond national standards to create a school environment that fosters healthy student choices. A critical component of the HUSSC award is applying the new Smart Snack criteria for all foods sold in schools.

What is a Smart Snack?

The “Smart Snacks in School” rule applies to any food item sold a la carte, in school stores or in vending machines. Updated nutrition standards put limitations on caloric value, as well as set specific nutrient requirements regarding fat, sugar and sodium. You can find the specific nutrient requirements in this USDA’s “All Foods Sold in Schools” Standards resource.


Smart Snacks are under 200 calories per serving.

HUSSC: Smart Snack Application Tips

Smart Snacks criteria are an important part of the HealthierUS School Challenge application. Criteria becomes stricter as the award levels increase.

Susan Patton, Ohio Team Nutrition Coordinator, has provided a few tips to reach HUSSC’s Bronze level of achievement:

  1. Document your Smart Snacks training session. Schools are required to offer annual training on Smart Snacks criteria to all individuals involved in the sale of foods to students on the school campus during the school day. Documenting the date, time and attendance of your session will aid in filling out the application.
  1. Avoid advertising food and beverages that do not meet the Smart Snack criteria. Signs and marketing materials promoting these foods should not be visible to students on the school campus during the school day. This restriction includes flyers on vending machines. A statement in your wellness policy would provide evidence that your school is following this criteria.
  1. Save product labels. If product labels are unavailable, use a Smart Snack calculator. The calculator will provide documentation of your snack compliance and should accompany your HUSSC application. You can find the Smart Snack Calculator below.

Is Your Snack Smart?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has come up with an easy way to find out! Simply enter the product information, answer a few questions and find out if your item meets the new USDA guidelines for a healthy smart snack. Click the image below to launch the Alliance Product Calculator.


Play Ball! Use Vegetable Toppings to Create Your Own Opening Day

Monday, April 4 is Opening Day for Ohio professional baseball teams. Kick off the season with ballpark hot dogs, featuring vegetable toppings. Whether your students are Cincinnati Reds or Cleveland Indian fans, the new items are sure to be a hit!

ErinEllen_hotdog trays_Creekview

Creekview Intermediate (Marysville, Ohio) held a baseball-themed spirit day that included the Chicago Dog and the Fenway Frank.

Ball Park Days

Across the country from neighborhood to professional league stadiums, hot dogs with toppings are popular concession stand items. Clubs create regional specials that can become as popular as the team mascot.

In school meals, hot dog toppings can move vegetables off the side of the tray (the sidelines) and into the game. The strategy takes advantage of the popularity of the hot dog and encourages kids to re-imagine the vegetable as a fun festive topping that adds flavor to their dog.

We took the name of popular ballpark hot dogs as our inspiration and reworked the toppings to meet the taste and menu requirements of the school lunch program.

The Big Red Smokie: Cincinnati Reds fans love their Big Red Smokies. Instead of a smokie dog, top off the hot dog with a smoky red topping like red peppers or a Pico de Gallo.

Chicago Dog: Traditionally served with pickles and sliced tomatoes, this version features a crisp cucumber relish of diced cucumbers and tomatoes. Click HERE for the recipe.

Fenway Frank: Fenway Franks are featured in Boston stadiums; this version of the hot dog is served with coleslaw and baked beans. Yummy!

Rockie Dog: No need to travel to Colorado for this dog – serve hot dogs with grilled peppers and onions (and for the brave – add sauerkraut).

Signature Dog: Serve the hot dog with a chopped pineapple salsa made with diced onions, red pepper, and lime juice. Click HERE for the recipe.

Create Your Own: Ask students to create a signature dog using the team mascot or local professional team name as inspiration.

Tips for Promoting Vegetable Toppings

In addition to having some fun with the menu – our goal is to increase vegetable consumption.

Try these tips to grab students’ attention and encourage selection of the topping:


Use displays to capture students’ attention.

  • Give the pair a cool name
  • Place the topping on the tray or in grab-and-go cups within the same serving station
  • Offer samples of the toppings to students waiting in line
  • Use simple signage, with a food model, to illustrate how to pair the items
  • Place the model at eye-level

It’s a Hit

Three intermediate schools stepped up to the plate recently and gave Chicago Dogs and Fenway Franks a try. The toppings were a big success – 42% to 48% of students who selected a hot dog also selected a vegetable topping.

Surprisingly, though, the most popular topping varied by building. Toppings must be like baseball – we all have our favorites!

To add vegetable toppings to your menu, download the following signs and recipes:

Ballpark Franks

Build a Burger

Pizzazz your Pizza

Recipes: Slaws and Salsas

Recipes: Relish and Hummus

Contributors to this post include:

Little Miami Local Schools

Rachel Tilford, Food Service Manger

Darlene Oeder, Kitchen Manager

Kelly Oeder, Lorri Lykins, Brooke Barrett and Kristi Hess

Marysville Schools

JoAnne Morbitzer, Food Service Director

Laura Hayes, Kitchen Manager

Pat Nicol, Rhonda Lawrence, Mary Feurer, Shirley Falatach and Traci Paver

Sycamore Community Schools

Jessica Johnson, Child Nutrition & Wellness Director

Kellie Eick, Kitchen Supervisor

Barb Mink, Felice Chapman, Lisa Mandell, Ruthie Craven, Stephanie Reisert and Terry Town


Shake Up School Lunch with Brunch!

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, Chef Carrie Beegle and her “A-Team” – head Cloverleaf chefs Tammy Cooper and Joyce Meyer – wowed us with simple, commodity-based recipes that bring breakfast to lunch.

Carrie and Team

Chef Tammy Cooper, Chef Carrie Beegle and Chef Joyce Meyer

Three Breakfast Inspired Recipes

Chef Carrie demonstrated three unique, restaurant quality “breakfast for lunch” ideas: blender-less smoothies, breakfast nachos and a Southwest omelet with O’Brien skillet potatoes. In addition to the recipes, she shared tips on how to present restaurant quality food in the cafeteria. “You don’t have to be a master chef to make something look pretty,” she said. Meals that look good catch the eye of kids and encourage selection!

Blender-less Smoothies: No blender? No problem! Chef Carrie demonstrated two simple ways to offer smoothies without the hassle of expensive equipment.

Smoothie Photo

“Hippity Hop” smoothie

First up, the “Hippity Hop!” Using a Burr mixer, she combined low-fat strawberry yogurt, chilled orange juice and cooked carrots to create 30 to 40 servings in under 10 minutes! This creamy, orange smoothie had a surprisingly sweet taste that kids will love. Next, the “Orange Julius” smoothie was even simpler and just as delicious! Chef Carrie whisked together low-fat vanilla yogurt, chilled orange juice and unsweetened applesauce for a creamy concoction that would give the popular franchise a run for their money!

Presentation Tip – Chef Carrie plans on combining the “Hippity Hop” with bunny graham crackers to create a complete breakfast and a special holiday treat!

For more information regarding blender-less smoothie techniques and recipes, check out the Made for Participation Smoothie Guide offered by General Mills Foodservice.

Breakfast Nachos: We all know kids love nachos – here’s another spin on them! It’s a simple construction of tortilla chips and breakfast staples, topped with Queso and fresh pico de gallo. Chef Carrie mixed cooked sausage and scrambled eggs together to create a “confetti-like” look, while layering the rest of the ingredients.

Exhibition NachosPresentation Tip – Chef Joyce Meyer roasted a medley of spiced kidney and black beans to add a little texture and crunch!


Southwest Omelet & O’Brien Skillet Potatoes: This cheese omelet topped with chili was absolutely delicious! Chef Tammy showed us how simple it was to prepare, while Chef Joyce sautéed a blend of potatoes, red and green peppers along with diced sweet onion to round out the dish.

Exhibition OmeletPresentation Tip – To add a little flair, garnish the entrée with a few scallions and a dab of Greek yogurt! The chefs at Cloverleaf recommend using a Greek yogurt-filled squirt bottle for ease.



Click HERE to download Chef Carrie Beegle’s “breakfast for lunch” recipes.

Carrie Beegle is the food service director for Cloverleaf and Mapleton Local school districts. She has 18 years’ experience in school food service with another 8 years as a chef. She has a passion for utilizing government commodity foods in unique ways. As a consultant chef for the “Healthy Cuisine for Kids” series, sponsored by ODE Team Nutrition, Carrie has been able to help many schools move towards developing healthier menu options.

Farm to School: An $800 Million Investment in Local Foods, Local Economies

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the major benefits we’re seeing in schools and districts that have established a farm to school program. Their efforts are giving students a deep understanding and appreciation for where their food comes from and drastically shifting kids’ opinions of fruits and veggies.

Farm to School

The final results of the USDA Farm to School Census 2015 shed light on another huge benefit of farm to school – we’re talking $789 million huge. That’s the total amount schools report investing in their communities in school year 2013 – 2014 by purchasing local food from farmers, ranchers, fisherman, food processors and manufacturers. This represents a 105 percent increase over school year 2011 – 2012, when the first USDA Farm to School Census was conducted. In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of districts engaged in farm to school report that they plan to purchase more local foods in the coming years.

These funds are a major boost to local communities, helping sustain local food systems by providing a consistent, reliable customer base. With farm to school, “you have a customer, an able buyer willing to pay fair market price and buy in bulk,” explained Chuck McCool of McCool Farms in Arkansas. As Chuck puts it, “Farm to school is the greatest thing that’s happened to vegetable farmers since… well since I can’t remember when! I can’t remember what would have been better than farm to school… It’s a win-win for everybody.”

But the benefits aren’t just limited to vegetable farmers; farm to school programs present economic opportunities for the whole agricultural industry. Fruits, vegetables and milk top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, but schools indicate that they’d like to also buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers in the future. And these types of programs aren’t only seen in states known for their agriculture like Iowa or Nebraska. The Census results show that farm to school programs are present in every state across the country, in schools large and small, rural and urban.

We’ve recognized a few of these programs on our Farm to School Census page, highlighting three programs per state that are beating their state’s average spending on local foods. But we know there are many more schools out there that are doing innovative work through their farm to school programs.  That’s why we’re inviting you to vote for the farm to school program that you think is ‘One in a Melon!’ Now through April 15 you can nominate a school that you believe has an exemplary farm to school program. So check out the extended results of the Farm to School Census and cast your vote today! Winners will be announced this May.

The original article be found on the USDA blog site, posted by:

Janna Raudenbush, Public Affairs Specialist, Food and Nutrition Service.


Ohio Farm to School Resources

Ohio’s Farm to School Program provides kids with fresh, local products, as well as advocates for local farming communities. Through the Farm to School Program, kids learn where food comes from and how food choices will affect their health, the environment and their community. Here are a variety of ways to incorporate farm to school into your cafeteria and classrooms:

Start Your Day With a Boost: Say Yes to Breakfast!

We’ve all heard the saying, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but have you ever stopped to think why? A balanced breakfast provides kids with the nutrients and energy needed to boost metabolism and brainpower! According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), providing breakfast at school can:

  • Improve student concentration, understanding and learning
  • Improve attendance and decrease tardiness
  • Reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese

Waking up to breakfast is essential for improving a child’s overall health, as well as reaching their highest academic achievement!

Spotlight on Breakfast

Wake Up - BFastNational School Breakfast Week (NSBW) is March 7th-11th. This week is dedicated to raising awareness about the availability of the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The National School Breakfast Program allows over 90,000 schools/institutions to serve school breakfasts to 14 million students each day!

Ohio continues to increase both in the number of breakfasts served and the number of students participating in the SBP. Nationally, for the 2014/2015 school year Ohio ranks:

  • 8th best in the number of breakfasts served
  • 7th best in the number of students participating in the SBP

Let’s increase those numbers! Use NSBW to jumpstart, enhance or promote your school breakfast program.

Celebrate Breakfast

Get students excited about the most important meal of the day!

  • Hold a breakfast item taste test event. The key is to introduce breakfast items to kids who may not regularly participate in the SBP. Find preferences and feature these items on the breakfast menu!
  • Feature breakfast for lunch. Put a twist on the daily lunch routine! Similar to taste testing, serving breakfast for lunch is an invitation for students to participate in the SBP.
  • Student poster contest promoting breakfast. Students love to be creative! Join forces with art teachers and have kids design posters. Display the winning artwork in the cafeteria.
  • Invite parents, staff and administration to breakfast. Not only do special guests build excitement around the meal, but modeling is excellent reinforcement for healthy behaviors.

Serve the Unexpected 

Sure – cereal, milk and fruit are staple breakfast foods, but it’s time to get creative! Increase SBP participation by jazzing up the menu. The USDA has recommended alternative breakfast items that are sure to win over your students.

BFast Parfait

  1. Fruit pizza on whole wheat crust
  2. A parfait with fresh fruit, topped with low-fat yogurt and crispy whole-grain cereal
  3. Vegetables, beans, salsa and low-fat shredded cheeses wrapped in a tortilla
  4. A smoothie blended from frozen fruits and low-fat yogurt, served with whole-wheat crackers and low-fat cheeses

Offer Breakfast in a Unique Way

Just like there are many alternative breakfast items, there are also many ways to serve breakfast. Offering breakfast at different locations within the school, at various times of the day or bundled into a “grab-n-go” meal may allow kids to benefit from the SBP that may typically miss out on traditional breakfast services.

  • Serve breakfast in the classroom. This allows for all students to be offered breakfast, ensuring that kids start the day off nourished and ready to learn!
  • Provide ‘grab-n-go’ breakfast. This option makes it easier for students to choose to have breakfast. ‘Grab-n-go’ breakfasts allow more flexibility and choice of when and where to eat breakfast.

School Breakfast Resources

  1. Do you want to start a breakfast program at your school? Check out the “Energize Your Day with School Breakfast” USDA Toolkit.
  2. For more ideas and resources to celebrate NSBW, take a look at the “Wake up to Breakfast” SNA Toolkit.
  3. Take the Ohio School Breakfast Challenge and become a “Breakfast All-Star.”

Share Your Ideas!

Do you have any fun, creative ideas for NSBW? Let us know how your school is celebrating breakfast by leaving a comment below!

Spice Up Taste Testing by Re-Inventing a Familiar Bite!

Four food service directors from northeast Ohio use teamwork as the “special sauce” in their school nutrition events. The group meets regularly to share ideas, menus, and plan events. Last week, Joyce Dicks (Springfield Local) and Natalie Winkle (Boardman Local) introduced us to the Food Factor Wheel. This week, Sue Hughes (Sebring Local) and Tascin Brooks, DTR (Austintown Local) talk about coconuts, spaghetti squash, and spice bars!

Sebring Local Schools

BL Miller Elementary students love the Food Factor Wheel! They cheer; they whisper; they clap for that wheel. They cheer when they see the wheel set up in the cafeteria. They whisper to one another about the range of selections. They clap for their taste and to encourage the participation of their peers. “Students recognize the wheel and get really excited about the opportunity to try the new items,” observes Sebring Local Schools food service director Sue Hughes.

Hughes wanted to feature a mix of items, and highlight foods that are available through the Child Nutrition USDA Foods Program. Students were offered these familiar – but with a flavor twist – items:

  • Roasted sweet potatoes
  • Crunchy chick peas, seasoned with garlic salt, black pepper and then baked
  • Strawberry and sour apple applesauce
  • Marinara sauce on top of spaghetti squash
Sebring_applesauce_Jan 2016 (2)

Sour apple and strawberry applesauce samples were part of the event.

Fresh star fruit, kiwi, blackberries, and papaya were also on the wheel. Hughes reports that students loved the flavor of the blackberries and kiwi, and that every sample was eaten by the end of lunch!

A fresh coconut was a big hit with the students. Staff broke open the hard shell and toasted the coconut. The shell was displayed alongside the toasted coconut. “Students were intrigued that I got coconut out of that shell!” said Hughes. She added that toasted coconut might not be a regular menu item, but items like the coconut create an excitement about fruits and vegetables. “We like it because it also gives staff an opportunity to teach about the different properties of foods.”

The following day at the Junior/Senior High School, persimmon was added to the Food Factor Wheel. The fruit looks like a cross between an apple and a tomato. Few people, including Hughes, had ever tried a persimmon; most of the students reported that it was very sweet!

The high school event also included a special guest – a graduate of the high school who is currently enrolled in culinary training at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. The future chef wore her white jacket and chef’s hat as she served the samples. The students were happy to see her!

Austintown Local

Spice bars allow students to personalize the flavor of vegetables and other menu items. One hurdle to the bar’s use is that spices can be a new concept and skill for students. To introduce their spice bar, Austintown Fitch High School took advantage of the popularity of pizza to teach students the different flavors of spices. Students had the opportunity to sample five different spices on a homemade whole grain pizza crust.

  • Cajun
  • Sriracha
  • Veggie
  • Garden
  • Herb blend

“Hopefully, students will spice up vegetables and other menu items that are sometimes bland and learn to enjoy the flavors that spices can lend to the healthy menu items,” says Austintown Local Schools food service director, Tascin Brooks, DTR. Approximately 800 out of 1500 high school students came through to sample the seasonings that are now available daily at the new flavor station.

Fitch_SpiceTaste3_Jan2016 (2)

High school students sample different spices.

The spice bar went live the day after the test event with positive results. “The most popular flavors are the Cajun, sriracha, and garden seasonings. Students and staff were flavoring their vegetables, salads, and main entrees! We are very pleased with the response,” observed Brooks.

“We are always trying to think outside of the box to keep student dining services exciting. We want students to be excited about healthy eating and look forward to school meals,” added Brooks. The next event will feature a healthy cooking event, with the four Austintown Fitch High School principals competing against one another.

Healthy Cooking Throw Down

The healthy cooking throw down is modeled after popular television cooking challenges. Each principal will create a healthy item that includes vegetables flavored with spices from spice bar. The winning recipe will be featured on the school menu. High school culinary students will assist each principal as they create a reduced-fat corn chip chili pie recipe. The Fitch High School student body will vote on the entrée creations. The winning recipe will be featured on the menu during the following week.

Tips for a Successful Event

We asked these seasoned experts for advice on holding successful taste test and cooking events. Here are their tips:

  • Have fun! Students will follow your lead.
  • Invite others to the event. The group found that school board members, administrators, and teachers were happy to be involved, and were valuable role models during the event.
  • Ask for help. Think about university student interns, public health department educators, volunteer parent groups, and vendors.
  • Keep the momentum going!

Youngstown State University dietetic students William Masters, Chelsea Ludwiczak, and Cricket Murry assist Sue Hughes with the event at Sebring Local Schools.


Contributors of this blog post include:

Tascin Brooks, DTR, Food Services Director

Austintown Local Schools

Sue Hughes, Food Service Director

Sebring Local Schools

Beth Stefura, M Ed, RD, LD

Educator, OSU Extension


Food Factor Wheel adds a Spin to Taste Test Events

Schools in northeast Ohio put a new spin on nudging kids to eat their vegetables. Students step up, spin the Food Factor Wheel, and take a taste. In this game – everyone is a winner.

Boardman Local Schools

WHEEL.jpg“We are trying the wheel because if they do try it without the pressure of having it on their tray, then maybe they will say, ‘Oh, let me take one little bite,’ and they will like it versus having a bunch of it on their tray that they are intimidated by and then end up throwing away,” said Boardman food service director Natalie Winkle.

“You have to introduce it slowly so they will get accustom to it,” said Winkle. At Boardman, students tried one or more of the following items:

  • Roasted carrots
  • Edamame
  • Spinach
  • Parmesan zucchini straws
  • Rosemary and garlic roasted black beans
  • Beets
  • Sweet, spicy garbanzo beans

Beets were the big, surprising hit. Some students didn’t recognize the item – but that didn’t stop them from trying (and liking) the purple vegetable. Roasted black-beans were also very popular, especially after the principal gave the item two thumbs up.

Click HERE to see a video of the Food Factor Wheel in action!

Springfield Local Schools

TRAY.jpgSpringfield food service supervisor Joyce Dicks offered students a taste of some out-of-the-ordinary fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, and star fruit – with more common options of blueberries, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and yellow squash. “It was our first taste test event, and we wanted to get their attention – the variety of shapes and colors really created a lot of interest.  That said, we were surprised by the number of students who had not previously tried fresh cantaloupe or blueberries.”

Most of the 400 Springfield Local students sampled a fruit or vegetable and 90% of the kids found a fruit or vegetable that they liked. “That’s a huge success!” observed Dicks.

Springfield plans to build on the momentum by offering the kid-tested items within the menu or as part of the salad bar.  Plans are also underway to start a school garden where students grow their own greens.

The next taste test will feature roasted vegetables. “Roasting vegetables brings out a different, sweeter flavor in vegetables – we think our kids will be pleasantly surprised by the taste,” adds Dicks.


Researchers have found that kids become more interested in fruits and vegetables with repeated positive exposure, and exposure to a variety of items.

“We are going to do evaluations and see how the items perform when they appear on the menu. Based upon the overwhelming positive responses at the event, we expect fruit and vegetable selection to increase,” said Beth Stefura with the OSU Extension.

Next week, read about the creative way Austintown Local used pizza dough to introduce a spice bar and what happened when Sebring Schools added spaghetti squash to the wheel!

Sign up HERE to hold a taste test event at your school and receive 500 Official Taste Tester stickers. Click “Register Now” and receive your Taste Test Toolkit.


Contributors of this blog post include:

Beth Stefura, M Ed, RD, LD

Educator, OSU Extension

Natalie Winkle

Food Service Director, Boardman Food Services

Boardman Local Schools

Joyce Dicks

Nutrition Services Supervisor, Springfield School Nutrition

Springfield Local Schools

Smarter Lunchroom Advisory Councils (SLACs): Impacting Positive Changes in Cafeterias and Student Choices

High schoolers and middle schoolers around the state of Montana are a part of the Smarter Lunchrooms process to improve fruit and vegetable consumption and decrease plate waste! By forming Smarter Lunchroom Advisory Councils (SLACs), students, teachers, administrators, food service staff, and others at each school have had open communication about school lunch and brainstormed and implemented actionable solutions that work. Montana researchers have partnered to figure out best practices for Smarter Lunchroom teams.

Who is involved?

SLAC ImageA SLAC should include at least 5 to 6 people made up of 1 to 2 students, a food service staff member, an administrator or teacher, a Montana State University (MSU) Extension professional or relevant community leader, and other people interested in improving school lunch (don’t forget parents!).

Those involved should be excited about changing their school cafeteria and be diverse from one another (e.g., different grades, interests, and peer groups). Make sure that one of the students on the SLAC regularly eats in the cafeteria and at least half make food (meal or snack) purchases. Make sure your group has approval from the school and a mentor is available to meet on a regular basis.

It’s time to get started!

First things first, use your SLAC team and/or gather some classmates and have them brainstorm some positive areas and room for improvement in the lunchroom. There are four easy steps that you’ll follow to score your lunchroom and start with healthy changes. After your team has a good idea of the opinions about the cafeteria, introduce the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement as a way to improve food choices in your school.

  1. Score It: Use the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard to see what your lunchroom’s total score is.
  2. Choose It: Using the results of the Scorecard, choose at least one change(s) to work towards to encourage your classmates to make healthier eating habits.
  3. Do It: Now it’s time to create and implement a plan to make your chosen change. Remember to take some pre change measurements so you know where you started, then make your change(s).
  4. Check It: Take some measurements to see what difference your change(s) made in the food choices of you and your classmates.

Plan how you will share results and successes with your stakeholders, the media, and other interested groups. Also make sure to thank collaborators, share your story, and plan next steps!

The Montana research team is just beginning to test their process and will be back with more details and a full guide for states across the US to utilize soon. Stay tuned!


Authors of this blog post include:

The Montana research team – Carmen Byker Shanks and Emily Tosoni (Montana State University Food and Health Lab), Katie Bark and Molly Stenberg (Montana Team Nutrition), and Carrie Ashe (Montana State University Extension).

The work is funded by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center) and Montana Team Nutrition (2015-17 TNT grant).

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