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.


Elements of an AWESOME Sign

An easy way to communicate with students is through quality signage. Signs can peak interest and sell an item! Signs can vary in style, as well as effectiveness though. An Impactful sign includes a specific message and use of color, layout, and materials in a professional manner.

Before you break out the paint, you need to decide which type of signs your cafeteria may need. Sign type differs based on the purpose or message being presented.

Types of Signage:

  1. Directional: Directional signs are used to help students locate specific food items or food sections within the cafeteria. For example, signs that say “wraps” or “salad bar” direct students to where these items are located.
  1. Instructional: Instructional signs may be necessary when specific food items require an explanation. For example, if the item of the day is a “build-your-own burger,” it may be helpful for students to provide signage with a brief description of the process.
  1. Priming: Priming, or promotional, signs grab the interest of students! Promotional signage can introduce a new food item, highlight a local food item, or encourage trial of an item. This type of sign focuses on the appeal of the item. Place promotional signage throughout the school, as well as near new or featured items.

Try to incorporate all three types of signage throughout the school, cafeteria, and food service area.

Once you’ve figured out the type of signs needed, it’s time to create! There are a few common components of effective signage. Here are some things to consider when creating your cafeteria signs.

  • Message. All signs should have a clear message or purpose. Design the sign around the message.
  • Keep it visible and legible. Less really is more. You want students to be able to read a sign at a glance. Keep your message short and concise. Visibility is one of the most important aspects of a sign. The size of the sign should be appropriate for the distance and height from the view of students. Take careful consideration of the location of signage and identify what obstacles may be in the way.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid clutter. Crowding a sign with too many words or pictures makes it hard to read from a distance. Students have a short amount of time to select their lunch components. Signs that are too wordy or complex may be overlooked.

The two photos below are signs that were used to promote vegetable-based toppings. Version one, on top, was too busy and difficult to read. In version two, most of the copy was cut. Keeping the sign simple made it easier to read, and placed the focus on the entrée and the suggested topping. Version two was a hit!


#1 – Too Busy


#2 – Simple

  • Use color and contrast. Use bright, contrasting colors to accentuate the message. Light border or text on a dark background are easier to read. Without contrast, your message cannot be read. The “Marvelous Mushroom” sign below is a great example of contrast.

The blue and white against the black background really makes the name pop.

  • Include pictures. Pictures attract students to signs and are especially helpful for priming and increasing the appeal of food items. Pictures can also help illustrate steps described in instructional signs.
  • Recruit a graphic designer. Graphic designers know design! They can take your message and give it a polished look. A graphic designer can also create a consistent theme (color and look) across all signage. If you do not have access to a designer, ask the school art or computer teacher to identify a talented student.

Visit the Resources section above for signs and posters that can be downloaded and used in your cafeteria. If you have any photos of your AWESOME signs that you’d like to share with other school nutrition teams, please send them to us – we would love to share your ideas!

Add the USDA to Your Team Nutrition

Team NutritionWhat if we told you with one simple click you could have hundreds of FREE resources available at your fingertips? Recipes, menus, MyPlate materials, colorful stickers and posters, staff training programs – all delivered directly to your office or simply downloaded to your computer. Team Nutrition is available to guide your cafeteria project to success!

Team Nutrition

I’m sure you are wondering what exactly is Team Nutrition? This initiative is part of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, supporting the Child Nutrition Programs. Team Nutrition focuses on training and technical assistance for foodservice, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.

Resource Bank

One of our main goals is to fill your resource bank with materials to aid in your nutrition initiatives. Three large categories of resources available through Team Nutrition are – Promotional Items, Menus and Recipes, and Curriculum and Education.

The following are resources recommended by Ohio Team Nutrition Coordinator, Susan Patton. Susan said it was hard to pick just three resources, but these are her current “go-to” materials:

  1. Try Day StickerMake Today a Try-Day Stickers – These fun stickers are great for reinforcing students’ willingness to try new food items! Use them with a taste-testing event or designate a day of the week as a “Try It Day”.
  1. Menus that Move – Menus that Move is a set of seasonal cycle menus that incorporate USDA new meal guidelines. Each seasonal cycle menu contains five weekly menus for grades K-8 and 9-12.

Garden Detective

  1. The Great Garden Detective Adventure – This is a standards-based gardening nutrition curriculum for grades 3 and 4. Through investigations and fun experiences, kids discover which fruits and vegetables are the sweetest, crunchiest, and juiciest! This resource is excellent for connecting the school garden to the classroom, school cafeteria, and home.

For hundreds of other resources, check out the Team Nutrition Healthy Meals Resource System. Take advantage of all that Team Nutrition has to offer. You’ll be amazed at what you might find!

Join the Team

Team Nutrition Schools focus attention on the importance of nutritious school meals, nutrition education, and a health promoting school environment. By doing so, students learn to enjoy healthy eating and physical activity. Team Nutrition Schools work together with school nutrition staff, teachers, parents, the media and other community members to encourage healthy behaviors. To learn more about Team Nutrition behavior focused strategies and school enrollment, follow the link below.

Become a Team Nutrition School!

The Lunch Tray

kids and food, in school and out

Live Healthy Live Well

Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences

School Meals That Rock

Featuring school nutrition programs that serve kids well

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