Juggling Fruits and Vegetables into School Meals

It’s a circus in here – literally! Staff from Beavercreek elementary schools used children’s love of the circus to introduce the topic of juggling fruits and vegetables into their diet. School nutrition staff joined with classroom teachers, parent volunteers and administrators to promote the importance – and fun – of healthy eating. Even the school mascot, Bucky Beaver, jumped into the event.

Circus Themed-Lunch

Over 1400 students, from six elementary schools, participated in the fun event.

Over a six-day campaign, students learned nutrition facts via morning announcements. The messages were simple and tied to the event theme. One example is ‘juggle more carrots into your diet because they help your eyes’. During lunch, a juggler from the district administration visited with students while literally juggling broccoli, apples and oranges. “The students loved it,” explained Student Nutrition Supervisor, Connie Little. Through the building-wide marketing methods, a message of healthy food choices reached 3355 elementary students.

Big top tent in the cafeteria.

Red and white tablecloths over a wire create a big-top tent.

Students also participated in the event by coloring sheets that illustrated the wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Brightly colored sheets filled the cafeteria walls with 30 different types of fruits and vegetables.

School staff also personalized their event. At Valley Elementary School, manager Cindy Stall, custodian Todd Mendenhall and parent volunteer Kathy Perez, draped alternating red and white tablecloths over a wire to create a big-top tent that hung over the serving area. The tent created a huge level of excitement.

The star of the show was the circus-theme plated lunch. A turkey-beef hot dog, fresh carrots, a Red Delicious apple, snow peas, whole grain animal crackers and cold delicious milk were served in a red and white striped circus-themed box.

A focus of the district has been to increase meal participation. For the day of the circus-themed lunch, participated increased by 6.7% – an average increase of 22 lunches per building.

The snow peas were also an overwhelming success. Approximately 1400 children consumed this new menu item. The district plans to repeat the themed-event and add snow peas to the menu.


School mascot Bucky Beaver joined the fun.

Fresh Combinations to LOVE this Season

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!”


A sign of this week’s items builds excitement for the fresh fruit and vegetables.

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!

Herb plants.

Fresh herb plants are front-and-center in the cafeteria serving line. Students are encouraged to touch and smell the plants.

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.


School Year Ends with a Fruit and Vegetable Extravaganza

It started with a wheel and some carrots, broccoli, and kale.

It ended with a blowout – a fruit and vegetable extravaganza that featured 20 types of fresh produce!

School nutrition staff at Boardman Center Intermediate School built a lot of interest in fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Staff hosted taste tests and gave away over 12,000 samples of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Students sampled raw broccoli, jicama, asparagus, edamame, beets, spinach, kale, zucchini straws, acorn squash, butternut squash, roasted garbanzo beans, roasted black beans, sweet potato, three varieties of tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, fresh pineapple, coconut, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes – over 20 different fresh and cooked, fruits and vegetables.

The taste tests were introduced through a wheel, spun to identify the item to be sampled. The wheel and the tastings became quite popular.

Fruit and Vegetable Blowout

The school year ended with a blowout – a fruit & veggie extravaganza – that featured a table full of raw asparagus, sliced jicama, raw broccoli, three types of melon, three types of tomatoes, and red, green & yellow peppers.


Cantaloupe was a big hit and has been added to the school menu.

The school year typically ends with celebrations, so the school nutrition staff wanted to celebrate the increased interested, by staff and students, in fruits and vegetables. “We really built momentum toward hosting a big event – it seemed like a good thing to do,” observed Food Service Director Natalie Winkle.

Best Day EVER!

Students loved the variety. One middle school student even said, “This is the best day ever!” Another student wished the school offered all these fruit and vegetables every day.

Tasting transferred to consumption, Winkle is very pleased to report. New choices on the menu include veggie sticks (celery & carrots), raw broccoli, grape tomatoes, cauliflower, and cucumbers.

  • Watermelon and cantaloupe have been added to the menu. Procurement records show an increase in amount of watermelon ordered: from 1- 21 pound watermelon per two-week cycle to 2 -21 pound watermelons per two-week cycle.
  • Procurement records show an increase from no cantaloupe purchased to 6 cantaloupes purchased every two weeks.
  • Strawberry consumption also increased.
  • Salad sales have increased. After the initial taste tests, students who chose salad on their lunch trays (when salad was served) went from 250 per day to about 300 per day.
  • More raw vegetables have also been added on the menu. Broccoli servings averaged of 165 servings per menu day and have increased to 222 servings of broccoli per menu day. Staff offered broccoli raw and steamed at different times on the menu; the amount of broccoli chosen stayed about the same. The students like the broccoli raw as much as steamed.

A Team Nutrition Training Grant, through the United States Department of Agriculture, funded the project. The grant is administered through the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Child Nutrition.

We thank the following school districts for sharing their activities, photographs, and data. Their stories will be posted on this blog over the upcoming months.

Austintown Local; Beavercreek City; Black River Local; Boardman Local; Cloverleaf Local; Columbus City; Edison Local; Fairfield Local; Fairview Park City;

Grand Valley Local; James A. Garfield Local; Leipsic Local; Marlington Local; Minster Local; Mount Vernon City; Pickerington Local; Springfield Local; Sebring Local; Summit Academy – Xenia; Warren City.

The Top 5 Nutrition Education Strategies of 2016

With 2017 only weeks away – it is time to celebrate the best of school nutrition.

In Ohio, 92 schools joined the Smarter Lunchroom Movement during the past school year. School nutrition staff implemented simple strategies that increased the availability of healthful items, encouraged trial of unfamiliar foods, and reinforced healthy student eating.

Taste tests, nutrition education, salad bar enhancements, cooking events, and plate waste studies were the most frequent types of activities.

Here are the highlights from this year’s most creative nutrition strategies – we hope they inspire your own success story in the coming year. Specific school stories will be posted on this blog over the upcoming months.

Taste Tests

Taste events are a fun, pressure-free way to introduce bite-sized samples of new food items. They also provide a quick, casual way to teach students about local food items, food properties, and healthful food choices. Curious students sampled over 38,732 items!

  • 65 schools held a taste test event;
  • 24 types of fruit were sampled;
  • 47 types of vegetables were sampled;
  • 25 schools added new items to the menu.


Nutrition Education

Nutrition education provides information about food properties and activities that help students develop skills for making nutritious food choices. The best nutrition education provides hands-on experiences that allow learners to engage with food, expand food preferences, and creates a willingness to try new foods and preparations.

The Smarter Lunchroom grant schools used menu boards and social media, and held events to engage students, teachers, parents, and community members in healthful eating.

  • 18 schools held nutrition education events;
  • 5 newspaper articles featured school nutrition events;
  • 28 blogs were posted on OHIO Smarter Lunchrooms;
  • 793 resources were downloaded from OHIO Smarter Lunchrooms.

Salad Bar Enhancements

Salad bars are an efficient way to offer a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable items.  Students can serve themselves and create salads tailored to their taste preferences. There is something for everyone in a well-stocked salad bar.

The placement of the salad bar, and the visual appeal of the items on the bar are important aspects for maximizing use. Bars are more likely to be visited if they sit directly in a traffic pattern, with eye-catching displays.

  • 32 salad bars were enhanced;
  • Over 50 signs were purchased;
  • 32 grab-and-go stations were created or improved.

Chef and Cooking Events

Cooking events encourage positive attitudes towards food. Cooking events bring fun into the kitchen, allow chefs to work with students and staff to develop creative entrees, and build skills for lifelong healthy eating.

Chef-run cooking classes are also a hit with school nutrition staff. Chefs assist nutrition staff expand their cooking skills, prepare and sample new items, and enhance flavor on recipe items.

Operationally, scratch cooking can result in food that is more appealing to students.  Districts can use this method to manage costs and control nutritional quality.

  • 15 schools held a cooking event;
  • 299 middle school students wrote an essay about wanting to be a sous chef;
  • 4 new recipes were created.

Tray Waste Studies

Tray waste is one way to measure school meal consumption. By observing the food left on the tray, conclusions can be made about the food that was consumed. It is one of the most direct ways to report what children are eating.

Measuring student nutrition behaviors is good practice. Measurements help professionals identify working strategies, assist in menu planning, and ultimately reduce the amount of food waste. Sixteen schools in this cohort completed tray waste studies.

  • 7,515 trays were observed and coded;
  • 38 days of tray waste was observed and coded;
  • 6 summary reports were shared with school nutrition staff.

A Team Nutrition Training Grant, through the United States Department of Agriculture, funds the project. The grant is administered through the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Child Nutrition.

We thank the following school districts for sharing their activities, photographs, and data. Their stories will be posted on this blog over the upcoming months.

Austintown Local; Beavercreek City; Black River Local; Boardman Local; Cloverleaf Local; Columbus City; Edison Local; Fairfield Local; Fairview Park City;

Grand Valley Local; James A. Garfield Local; Leipsic Local; Marlington Local; Minster Local; Mount Vernon City; Pickerington Local; Springfield Local; Sebring Local; Summit Academy – Xenia; Warren City.


And The Winner Is…

Our first Basket Challenge has come to an end. CONGRATULATIONS to Little Miami High School (Maineville, OH), Ethel M. Taylor Academy (Cincinnati, OH), and Maple Elementary (Chardon, OH) for creating and submitting awesome fruit displays!

Little Miami Fruit Basket

Little Miami High School

Ethel M Taylor Fruit

Ethel M. Taylor Academy

Chardon Fruit Display

Maple Elementary

Each team was able to incorporate multiple Smarter Lunchroom techniques into their display. The following techniques were used:

  • Spice up the container. We chose to highlight three entries with different containers to show variety. Little Miami used a wicker basket, highlighted with a colorful cloth. Ethel M. Taylor Academy used a wire basket, which creates a simple backdrop. Maple Elementary used black containers, which allows for the colors of the fruit to pop!
  • Variety. All three displays incorporated multiple fruit items. Not only does variety provide color and contrast, but it increases the chance of consumption. A new study, published by the Rudd Center, identified that for every additional type of fruit offered, there was a significant increase (of 9%) in students who took fruit as part of their lunch.

We would like to recognize the hard working teams that put together these award winning fruit displays:

Little Miami High School: Rachel Tilford (Food Service Director), Nikki Lierman, Maragaret Haines, Cherry Frederick, Elaina Hurst, Jenn McKee, Linette Petry, Christy Stephens, and Judy Moore

Ethel M. Taylor Academy: Jana Moses (Lunchroom Manager),  Dianna Richard, and Cheryl White

Maple Elementary: Josephine Culliton (Food Service Director), Tammy Peine, and Jackie Sanislo

Thank you for your participation in our first OHIO Smarter Lunchrooms challenge!

Our next challenge will be held during the month of February. It’s time to spice up your menu and introduce kids to new food items! Check back soon for more details on our statewide Taste Test Event.

What’s Cooking? 5 Ways to Enjoy Apples!

Let’s be honest, an apple a day is boring. If you’re looking for a seasonal pick to spice up your cafeteria during the winter months, then it’s time to re-invent the apple! Use this time to emphasize diverse cooking techniques and introduce students to a variety of apple pairing combinations.

Apples Image - Blog

Here are a few ways to get students excited about apples!

  1. Bake ‘em. Apples can be the focus of an entrée or a dessert. Pair baked apples with pork for a tasty entrée, or with a grilled cheese sandwich for a crisp crunch. Also, who can resist a warm apple crisp?
  1. Create a specialty salad. Salads aren’t vegetable exclusive! Include sliced apples on the salad bar, or add them to a “grab-and-go” specialty salad. Students will love the “Spectacular Spinach Salad”  made with apples and raisins!
  1. Set up an apple dipping bar. Forget about bobbing for apples, it’s time to dunk them! Come up with a variety of dips to pair with sliced apples. For ideas, check out the following fruit dips provided by the USDA Mixing Bowl.
  1. Organize an apple taste test event. Offer a variety of cooked or raw apples for kids to try. Encourage participation and have the kids tell you what they think. For more resources on creating a taste test event, check out our Getting Started Guide and Taste Test Materials.
  1. On the go. Prompt students to grab a whole apple, or sliced apples, to enjoy during the lunch meal or as an afternoon snack.

Apples can be purchased year round and are a favorite fruit of many. Introducing and offering apples in a variety of ways allows kids to enjoy the fruit, while still taking a healthy bite!

For more information regarding apple facts, educational materials and bulk recipes, check out the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide.


Be sure to check back next week to find out the WINNER of our November basket challenge! We’ll be accepting entries until Friday, Dec. 4th, so if you missed out you still have some time.  Click HERE for more details!

Time Is Running Out!

There are only 2 weeks left of the “Show Us Your Apples” Basket Challenge! Don’t miss out on the FREE entry prizes. Send us a photo of your award winning fruit basket today! Click HERE for more details.

Fruit Basket Example

Show Us Your Apples!

Show us your apples… your oranges… and your bananas! It’s time to put fruit into the spotlight through creative display and placement.

November Basket Challenge

During the month of November we will be running a basket challenge! Put your best fruit basket to the test and win an 18 x 24, full color professionally designed Taste Test poster. We’ll also include 500 “Official Taste Tester” stickers!

Here are a few Smarter Lunchroom techniques to consider when creating your eye-catching, student-grabbing fruit basket:

  1. Spice up the container. Toss out the drab metal bins and use a woven basket or a tiered dessert tray to display fruit. Baskets come in a variety of sizes – find one that meets your space.
  2. Keep the fruit items whole. Whole fruits are easier for students to grab on the go.
  3. Use color and contrast to make the fruit pop. Place at least two fruits of different colors in a basket of a contrasting color. Try oranges with raisins, bananas with pears, or green and red apples.
  4. Use colorful packaging or stickers. Edible peel fruits (apples, oranges) can be wrapped in cellophane or sliced in baggies.
  5. Maximize accessibility to fruit. Use baskets or tiered trays with heightened levels for easier student access to fruit items. Tiered levels also provide dimension, which increases appeal.
  6. Use a small sign to encourage selection – use adjectives like local, seasonal, and fresh to describe the fruit. Encourage students to grab a fruit item for later by prompting them with the idea of “a great afternoon snack!”

Once you’ve created your basket, place it in a high traffic area. A great place for a fruit basket is right by the register. Make the fruit basket the last thing a student will see before they leave the lunch line!

Award Winning BasketLaura - Basket2

Here is a great example of an award winning fruit basket. Laura Hayes, of Marysville High School, utilizes a tiered stand to display whole fruit options by the register. The variety of whole fruits combined with the dark colored, metal stand really makes the colors of the fruit pop. The three tiers allow for easier access to the fruit items offered, as well as dimension for appeal. Way to go Laura!

How You Can Enter a Basket

Take a picture with your basket and send it to Ohiosmarterlunchrooms614@gmail.com.

ALL entries will receive 200 of our “Official Taste Tester” stickers. The winner of the Basket Challenge will be announced during the last week of November.


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