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.

It Takes a Village

At the Black River Education Center, Food Service Director Bonnie Cooper embraced the proverb that ‘it takes a village’ to create long-term change. Cooper recruited students, teachers, staff, parents and community partners to create a school wellness committee. The 13-member committee worked throughout the year to develop health-enhancing guidelines and programs that would garner district-wide support.

Building a Culture of Health

To build a culture of health, the committee started with updating the district wellness policy. School wellness policies set the expectations for nutrition and activity opportunities offered within the school community. Policies are powerful tools – they can provide leverage for adding programs and improve coordination.

The final policy, approved by the school board in July 2016, included the following key elements:

  • School meal guidelines
  • Smarter Lunchroom strategies
  • Staff qualifications and professional development
  • Classroom celebration recommendations
  • Standards for competitive foods and beverages
  • Drinking water accessibility guidelines and promotion
  • Physical education requirements

Maybe? and Love! ballot boxes nudge students to find a tasty vegetable.

Community Carnival of Wellness

With contributions from the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and coordination from the new wellness committee, a Get Moving Night was held in March 2016. The event featured some of the new menu items as well as community physical activity partners – 160 students, 80 parents and 25 school members attended the event. The event featured:

  • A 9-hole miniature golf course located in the music room.
  • An obstacle course placed inside the cafeteria and managed by staff from a local fitness center.
  • Shake It Up Fruit Smoothies made with applesauce, 100% pineapple or orange juice and fresh strawberry or vanilla yogurt.
  • A Vegetable Tasting Station featured fresh bell peppers, snap peas, zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli.

More than 220 samples of fresh vegetables were taste tested on the event night. Students voted on their favorites; bell peppers (n=29), broccoli (n=22), snap peas (n=20) and zucchini (n= 21) received a ton of “love it” votes.

Cooper said, “The purpose of the voting was to get students’ opinion in a relaxing, fun atmosphere. These votes helped us create a different variety of vegetables for our lunch menus.”

To promote the carnival event, the cafeteria offered breakfast smoothies every Tuesday in March. Smoothie Tuesday was so popular that it earned a permanent spot on the breakfast menu.


Tri-color pepper cups grabbed student attention.

Parents, students, teachers and nutrition staff agreed – the event was a major success in raising awareness of fitness and improving the attitudes toward fruits and vegetables. People had fun, they learned something new and all activities improved student well being.

“I love these healthy choices for our children while they are at school and these options are so tasty!” remarked one parent during the event.

Ongoing Work

Building a culture of health is ongoing work. The Black River Wellness Team plans to keep up the momentum. Next year, they will work to broaden the scope of the wellness policy to include sleep recommendations.

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.


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!




Food Co-ops Provide Fresh Ideas

It’s a summer ritual of hundreds at the annual meeting of Ohio school nutrition professionals – the School Nutrition Expo. You never know what tasty new product you will find. There, in the last row with the simplest of displays, were two of the freshest ideas of the expo.

  • Amish cheeses
  • Urban grown lettuce greensCo-Op Cheese

Cubed cheeses in hues of yellow and orange filled a table centered with a 10-gallon milk can. The can is actually used to transport local milk to the cheese processing plant. Talk about fresh!

Co-Op LettuceThe second display contained four boxes of bright, fluffy greens – red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and spinach. The lettuce and cheeses are available through local cooperatives and are available to schools through Sysco Cleveland. The fresh food was the star of these displays!

Food Co-Ops

Middlefield Original Cheese is a farmer-owned co-op started back in 1956. Ninety-eight percent of the members are Amish and live on small family farms, milking their small dairy herd by hand. From early spring to late fall, the cows are out on pasture, enjoying the luscious grass and sunshine. Cooperative members believe that by keeping the land and cows healthy, a creamier and healthier cheese can be produced.

Green City Growers Cooperative began operations in 2012 with a 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse in a neighborhood of Cleveland. It is the largest food production greenhouse in a core urban area in the U.S. – the greenhouse produces 3 million heads of lettuce annually. The cooperative also believes in social responsibility. Green City employees are employee-owners and share in the profits of the business. Green City also donates 1% of all the leafy greens produced to the Cleveland Foodbank.

Consider food cooperatives as another school nutrition partner.

Be Inspired!

Summer is here! With additional free time, take the opportunity to recharge and generate new ideas for the upcoming school year. Inspiration is all around us – in the garden, at the grocery store, or in an unexpected place.  Step out into the community and grab some inspiration. Here are two of our favorite pieces of inspiration –

Color and Contrast

Veggie DisplayDoesn’t this colorful display draw you in? Take a minute and identify three features that capture your attention. One, two, three.

The display includes three bright colors: orange, green and purple. The white and dark green vegetables also provide eye-catching contrast. Placing the vegetables in different positions creates depth and texture. Shapes – did you notice the square of carrots and the circles of parsnips? Use the natural beauty of fruits and vegetables to create product areas that grab the interest of hungry shoppers.

Prime with Signs

Mushroom Signage (2)Good signage is easy-to-read, includes a creative name, and uses color to attract attention to key phrases. All three elements are at work in the “Marvelous Mushroom” sign! Marvelous is a descriptive adjective that immediately attracts attention and enhances taste expectations. Who wouldn’t want to try a marvelous mushroom? The blue and white text against the black background also makes the name pop. Lastly, signage is the centerpiece, but displaying a wide variety of mushrooms in baskets around the sign works to encourage selection. All-round, a great display!

Now it is your turn. Be the inspiration – share your ideas with us! Take some time to step out into your community and show us your inspiration. Send us photos, so we can share your story with other readers!

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kids and food, in school and out

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