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.

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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
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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.

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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.

Writing Contest Encourages Future Chefs


The fifth grade students at Diley Middle School wrote essays about their interest in cooking, and stated why they wanted to be chef for the day. Writers of the winning essays earned an opportunity to cook for their peers. The event drew close to 300 entries – and increased meal participation.

Chef for the Day

The Food Service Department staff created the writing contest as a way to further involve Pickerington students into school nutrition activities. Head cook Becky Loar created a videotaped message explaining the writing contest, and encouraged all students to submit an entry. The message played during the morning announcements and the response was tremendous. Excerpts from the winning entries are below:

Arlo exclaimed, “I come from a long line of amazing chefs!”

Ella described “the calming sense” she receives when cooking, and how much she enjoys the process as “sweet aromas are spreading happiness through you.”

Layla kept her reasoning simple and straight from the heart: “I love to cook and bake with my Mom, and I am very good in the kitchen.”

The three student winners helped Chef Pierre and the Diley kitchen staff cut, cook and plate toppings for a school-wide taste test event in April. “It was a fun day with lots of positive energy,” noted Judy Riley, Supervisor of Food Service. “Student sous chefs were thrilled to be part of the event and took an active role in encouraging their peers to try something new.”

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Heather Hedgepeth (Diley Principal), Judy Riley (Food Service Supervisor), Chef Pierre Wolf and Heather Loar (Diley Head Cook) prepare for the taste test event.

Taste Testing with the Student Chefs

All 580 Diley Middle School students received a sample of two different pizzas. The Chicken Poblano Mexican Pizza featured a soft pliable crust. Personalized toppings included fire-roasted Poblano peppers, refried beans, diced tomatoes, corn and black bean salsa and red onions. The Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza featured sun dried tomato sauce, fire-roasted garlic, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and sliced mushrooms. Students loved the ability to personalize their pizza with the various vegetable-based toppings.

  • 90% of the students who tried the pizza stated that they would buy it again.
  • Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza was the most popular topping, sampled by 70% of the students.

Chef for the Day increased meal participation at Diley Middle School by 100 meals, and the two vegetable-enhanced pizzas are now on the menu.

Smarter Lunchroom Strategies throughout the District

Chef for the Day was one part of Pickerington Local Schools year-long plan to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. At all the elementary and middle schools locations, staff added a variety of new items to the menu, placed fruit baskets in busy locations, moved salad bars to a more visible location and hung colorful posters in the dining area.  Highlights include:

  • Nacho munchables – a new vegetable and bean nacho entrée was added at four elementary and one middle school. The item is now a K-6 meat alternate.
  • Carrots and celery with hummus dip won a taste test and has been added to the weekly menu as a meat alternate.
  • Harmon Middle School added Salad Bar Wednesday and a Sub Bar Day to encourage vegetable purchases. The salad bar is rolled out to the cafeteria on Sub Bar Days to encourage veggie toppings to both sandwiches and salads. The Supervisor noted that vegetable waste is now minimized and students are adding extra vegetables to their subs. The sale of both salads and subs has increased.

Activities from this project were funded by a United States Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition Training Grant.

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Harmon Middle School kitchen staff added Sub Bar Day to the menu. Students can add a variety of vegetable toppings to their sandwich.

 

Customers Drive School Meal Choices at Cloverleaf


Students are our customers.

This simple phrase sums up how the Cloverleaf nutrition staff approaches their work. The team works hard to offer appealing menu items, as well as engage their customers in decision-making and tasting processes.

During the 2015-16 year, the nutrition team was very busy. They updated the salad bar, offered monthly taste testings, implemented Tot Chef cooking classes, and added cold-water dispensers into the cafeteria. New signage was also added to help students navigate through the meal choices.

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Ten students and their parents participated in the six-week Tot Chef program.

Location, Location, Location

In smarter lunchrooms, healthful items are offered in strategic locations. First in line and in a busy traffic pattern are two prime spots. To take advantage of the location, Food Service Director Carrie Beegle moved the salad bar, from a sidewall position, into the center of the high school cafeteria. In the new location, students must pass the salad bar to get to the cashier.

  • The results were positive; fruit and vegetable selection increased by 300%.

Entrée items were also reordered in the line. Beegle moved the homemade entrée of the day, called Kitchen Sync, to the first position in the serving line. Students now select the healthiest entrée twice as often as the pizza. This was an easy change with huge results!

Gotcha Sriracha at the Middle School

The middle school Student Food Service Committee participated in cooking lessons and created their own spice blends. Students created spice blends named Gotcha Sriracha, Kickin’ Colt and Jamaican Me Crazy.

“Herb blends were a big hit with all our students,” raved Beegle. “Students use them with everyday items to add instant flare and the salt requests have disappeared.”

Salad Bar Changes Reduce Waste

Elementary school students helped update their salad choices. A tray waste study revealed that 62% of the pre-made salads were wasted. The Cloverleaf Elementary staff added a salad bar to encourage students to select their own side item.

  • After the new salad bar was created, only 6% of the salad bar choices were discarded.

Staff handed out stickers to the elementary students when they had finished all their fruits and vegetables. The students were excited to receive the sticker.

Taste It Tuesdays and More

Like most taste events, Taste It Tuesday featured bite-size pieces of fruit and vegetable-based items, and students gave feedback on the taste. Taste It Tuesdays in Cloverleaf, though, featured a few very unique items:

Joyce’s Banana Freezes were a hit – 1,250 samples were gobbled-up by the students. The sampling, created by Cloverleaf’s head chef Joyce Meyer, was also featured in the Medina County Gazette.  Click here for the recipe.

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Vegetable waste decreased when elementary students served themselves.

Students Enjoy International Flavor


Knox County Career Center students recently sampled pho, the national dish of Vietnam, and then learned how to prepare the soup at home.

Knox County Career Center (Knox CCC) is located in Mount Vernon, Ohio. In this non-traditional high school setting, students prepare for a career while also completing their junior and senior years. Bruce Kreidler, Food Service Director, thought his students would enjoy the unique flavors of the soup – and he was right!

Pho Adds International Flavor

Pho is a broth and noodle soup that also includes ½ cup of vegetables. Carrots, cabbage, zucchini, green onions and cilantro were added to rice noodles and served in a warm broth. The soup was a big success – 322 students and staff enjoyed the new item.

  • Students liked the combination of bite-sized vegetables with the rice noodles.
  • A handful of students also appreciated that the soup was gluten-free.

Not only was the soup tasty, it was easy to prepare.

Traditionally, pho is made with beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga). Kreidler made his pho with a turkey broth made from scratch using leftover turkey bones from the school’s Thanksgiving meals. Making his own broth was economical and allowed him to control the sodium content in the soup. Rice noodles were pre-cooked by soaking them in hot water for 30 minutes. The noodles were then placed in small bowls, with the hot broth added on top.

Dishes of Pho

Pho is a broth-based soup that includes vegetables and rice noodles. This version included carrots, cabbage, zucchini, green onions and cilantro in a warm turkey broth.

Students Prepare Pho for Families

At the conclusion of the lunch period, Chef Kreidler taught interested students how to prepare the soup. Students julienned carrots, used a mandolin to slice the cabbage and zucchini, and diced the onions and cilantro.

Several of the cooking class attendees recreated the dish for their families. The students reported their families enjoyed the deceptively simple, yet flavorful variation on chicken noodle soup.

“Pho is great comfort food,” remarked one Knox CCC student who cooked the noodle dish for her family.

Carrot, Kale & Spinach Smoothies

Pho was just one of the cooking events Kreidler implemented with his students. Earlier in the year, Kreidler set up a smoothie station in the cafeteria. Bowls overflowing with fresh carrots, kale, spinach, peaches, blueberries and pineapple were placed alongside a blender.

The bright green and purple smoothies grabbed the attention of every high school student.

  • 120 samples were consumed during breakfast.
  • 375 samples were consumed during lunch.

“I can’t even taste the vegetables in this smoothie!” exclaimed one student. “When can we have this on the menu on a regular basis?” asked several others. The high price of the ingredients will limit adding the smoothies to the menu on a regular basis, but Kreidler will explore ways to offer the smoothies for special occasions.

The two cooking events had high participation and high customer satisfaction. Students tasted 827 samples of new food items, and Kreidler reported that approximately 75% of the student body had positive responses to the smoothies and the soup.

Soups and smoothies are two alternative ways to offer vegetables within school meals. Give pho a try in 2017 and let us know how it goes!

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Chef Kreidler tops rice noodles and vegetables with a homemade broth. The high school students enjoyed the international twist on chicken noodle soup.

 

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.

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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.

Vote Now. Vote Often.


Everyone should vote, and they should vote often. Stuff the ballot boxes. Go back and say more. Voting is important because it gives voice to your opinion.

We vote for political candidates, talent show contestants, social media posts, and much more. Why not use voting to help create irresistible school meals?

In school cafeteria voting, there are no red states or blue states – it’s a whole rainbow of colors. Our candidates are green leafy vegetables, red bell peppers, purple grapes, and ruby-colored pomegranates – to name a few.

Vote Now (and How).

OHIO Team Nutrition schools used a variety of ways to capture their students’ response to meals and new items. In school nutrition, asking students to voice their opinion creates menus that children will love, allowing schools to offer meals that nourish students for a day of learning.

Informal Polling

The easiest way to gather feedback is to ask students what they think. Informal polling can be as simple as walking through the cafeteria and asking students what they liked about an item.

Informal polling can also operate like an exit poll. As students leave the line or the cafeteria, staff ask a sample of students for their responses. Results give school nutrition professionals a quick sense of the response to an item.

Informal polling of customers is very easy to implement and requires no preparation work. It also creates a dialogue with current and potential customers. One downside of this quick-response method of information collection is that it may be difficult to summarize and track responses.

Public Declaration

Voting for your favorite candidate does not have to be secretive or require a ballot box. Public “liking” is something that students are quite familiar with.

Summit Academy in Xenia used clothespins and a poster board to collect feedback from their students. After sampling items as part of a fruit and vegetable of the month program, students placed a pin by their response: did they “like all”; “like some; or “like none” of the items sampled.

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Students use clothespins to mark their response.

We “like” this method because it teaches students that there are a variety of responses to trying a new food item. In Xenia, participation in taste tests grew over the course of the year, and all students discovered new items that they “liked”.

There are countless ways to create public voting systems. Try one of these:

  • Students place stickers by names of the items they like best.
  • Students place their empty tasting cup on a tray or in a basket to indicate the items they prefer.
  • Students raise their hands to polling questions.

Public declarations require minimal equipment and create a real-time visual picture of the patterns in student responses. This method also allows us to quantify and compare responses to a variety of food items.

Ballot Box

In traditional voting, voters complete a ballot and place it in a ballot box. After all the voting is complete, results are tallied – and a winner is declared. Ballot voting can be fun and suspenseful.

Food Service Director Bonnie Cooper at Black River Education Center created her own ballot boxes to use as part of a family fun night. Students and their parents voted for “Maybe?” items and “Love!” items. The positive-only responses frame the experience for children – and nudges children to look for a maybe or love item!

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

Printing ballots and counting responses requires a bit of extra work; however, ballots are great tools for quantifying the number of students who like and might purchase an item. Download ballots here.

Vote Often.

Unlike upcoming November elections, we want our constituents to vote often. A reoccurring process of asking students to provide feedback creates a shared experience in healthful eating. It also reinforces student, and staff, willingness to try new menu items.

Three Tips to Build High Voter Turnout

Regardless of the voting technique, we want high levels of participation. Maximize participation by following these simple tips:

  1. Make it convenient. Incorporate the polling station into the flow of regular meal service.
  1. Reward the act of voting. Stickers are a great way to say thank you. Download “I Voted” stickers here.
  1. Share the election results. Voting is a process, not a single act. An important part of the process is sharing results with the voters and putting their feedback into action. Knowing that your vote counts increases the likelihood of future voting. To share results with students, try one of these ideas:
  • Report the results in the morning announcements – make it fun, like reporting the results of a sporting activity;
  • Post a picture of the winning item at the entrance of the school or cafeteria;
  • Place a blue ribbon by the item when it appears on the serving line.

Let’s go Ohio! Go to the resource section of the blog to download stickers, ballots, and a taste test getting started guide.

The stakes are high. The outcomes are huge. Please – Vote Now. Vote Often.

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kids and food, in school and out

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Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences

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