Judi Hunter, Northridge Local Schools Food Services Supervisor, and her staff are always looking for ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in their school meal and snack programs. In January, the Northridge staff tried something new and tossed freshly picked herbs into their fruit and vegetable snacks.
Minty Fresh Combinations
The unique fragrances and textures of herbs add something fun and unexpected to a snack. Herbs also add flavor to food without adding salt or fat – increasing student acceptability.
“Any kitchen, whether at home or school, smells fabulous when working with fresh herbs,” explains Hunter. “Just begin chopping them and you draw the attention of every nose in the area!”
Raspberries with Mint
Spearmint is a light, sweet herb. Staff tossed raspberries with chopped spearmint and served the combination in cute white serving cups.
Mint can also be added to tea, mixed with fruit salad or sprinkled on top of yogurt. Hunter suggests planting some mint in containers, along a border or near pathways. As students brush up against the plant, the minty fragrance spills into the area.
Fingerling Potatoes with Chives
Chives look a lot like lawn grass – the stems are tall and spikey. Chives add a light oniony taste and can be added to most vegetables as a lighter alternative to onions.
“Our students love potatoes – yet the oblong shape of this potato was new for many of the students. They were eager to try this version,” commented Hunter. The potato/chive combination was very popular. In the future, the staff will offer the cooked version of fingerling potatoes during lunch the same week for further exploration by the budding foodies!
Tomatoes with Basil
Basil is the most commonly used herb in the United States. It adds a peppery, sweet flavor to items and pairs well with tomatoes. The combination of chopped tomatoes served with fresh basil was easy to prepare, and a big hit. Basil is also an easy plant to grow and gives off a nice fragrance in the garden or indoors.
Tomato Salsa with Cilantro
Cilantro is a unique herb – folks tend to love it or not. The flavor is described by some as bright and citrusy; to others it is soapy. Northridge staff made a fresh Pico de Gallo that students loved. It went over so well, plans are being made to add the item to the school lunch menu.
Cilantro appears in many international dishes like chutneys, salsas and pho. Try adding it into one of your taste test events!
Taste, Smell & Touch
Herbs really vary in their appearance, smell and taste – each plant is unique. Hunter offers these tips for getting students to experience the beauty of herbs:
- Encourage students to touch and smell the herbs. Place baskets of fresh herbs in the serving area, available for kids to touch and smell.
- Use signage to highlight the unique features of each herb. Draw attention to the shape and color of the leaves, as well as list key words that describe the flavor.
- Build excitement. Each week, Hunter posts the fresh fruits and vegetable snacks on a sign in the lobby. The sign also includes fact sheets that teachers can take into the classroom to discuss the food properties with students.
Apple, Apple & Apple
Teaching students about the subtle variations in food flavors can also be achieved by offering different varieties of the same items. In October and November, staff offered a different type of Michigan-grown apple each week (Jonamac, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Empire, Ida Red and Braeburn).
Hunter created a Google Form and asked teachers to conduct a simple – thumbs up / thumbs down – poll in their classroom. The apple voting took place each week with the final vote occurring on November 8 – Election Day.
Results were posted outside the lunch line. While supplies lasted, the featured apples were also offered with the school meal. The successful event will be repeated – Hunter will limit voting to no more than three weeks though. After three weeks, the excitement was waning.
Voting engages children with the meal and has been shown to increase participation and satisfaction. For additional ideas on voting, see this previous blog post.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Programs (FFVP) provide fresh fruits and veggies to younger students from income-eligible schools. The program benefits are twofold – the items provide a healthful, nutritious snack to young growing bodies; and the exposure builds a behavior of healthy snacking.
Hunter and her staff maximize student exposure to a variety of fresh items. In February, the Northridge FFVP menu features a combination of eight fruits and four vegetables – including strawberry and kiwi blend, black plums and asparagus. Each month also includes kid favorites like bananas, apples, grapes and clementines. For more information, click here.