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.

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.”


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.


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.


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.


Vegetable waste decreased when elementary students served themselves.

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.


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.


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!


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.

Spice Up Taste Testing by Re-Inventing a Familiar Bite!

Four food service directors from northeast Ohio use teamwork as the “special sauce” in their school nutrition events. The group meets regularly to share ideas, menus, and plan events. Last week, Joyce Dicks (Springfield Local) and Natalie Winkle (Boardman Local) introduced us to the Food Factor Wheel. This week, Sue Hughes (Sebring Local) and Tascin Brooks, DTR (Austintown Local) talk about coconuts, spaghetti squash, and spice bars!

Sebring Local Schools

BL Miller Elementary students love the Food Factor Wheel! They cheer; they whisper; they clap for that wheel. They cheer when they see the wheel set up in the cafeteria. They whisper to one another about the range of selections. They clap for their taste and to encourage the participation of their peers. “Students recognize the wheel and get really excited about the opportunity to try the new items,” observes Sebring Local Schools food service director Sue Hughes.

Hughes wanted to feature a mix of items, and highlight foods that are available through the Child Nutrition USDA Foods Program. Students were offered these familiar – but with a flavor twist – items:

  • Roasted sweet potatoes
  • Crunchy chick peas, seasoned with garlic salt, black pepper and then baked
  • Strawberry and sour apple applesauce
  • Marinara sauce on top of spaghetti squash
Sebring_applesauce_Jan 2016 (2)

Sour apple and strawberry applesauce samples were part of the event.

Fresh star fruit, kiwi, blackberries, and papaya were also on the wheel. Hughes reports that students loved the flavor of the blackberries and kiwi, and that every sample was eaten by the end of lunch!

A fresh coconut was a big hit with the students. Staff broke open the hard shell and toasted the coconut. The shell was displayed alongside the toasted coconut. “Students were intrigued that I got coconut out of that shell!” said Hughes. She added that toasted coconut might not be a regular menu item, but items like the coconut create an excitement about fruits and vegetables. “We like it because it also gives staff an opportunity to teach about the different properties of foods.”

The following day at the Junior/Senior High School, persimmon was added to the Food Factor Wheel. The fruit looks like a cross between an apple and a tomato. Few people, including Hughes, had ever tried a persimmon; most of the students reported that it was very sweet!

The high school event also included a special guest – a graduate of the high school who is currently enrolled in culinary training at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. The future chef wore her white jacket and chef’s hat as she served the samples. The students were happy to see her!

Austintown Local

Spice bars allow students to personalize the flavor of vegetables and other menu items. One hurdle to the bar’s use is that spices can be a new concept and skill for students. To introduce their spice bar, Austintown Fitch High School took advantage of the popularity of pizza to teach students the different flavors of spices. Students had the opportunity to sample five different spices on a homemade whole grain pizza crust.

  • Cajun
  • Sriracha
  • Veggie
  • Garden
  • Herb blend

“Hopefully, students will spice up vegetables and other menu items that are sometimes bland and learn to enjoy the flavors that spices can lend to the healthy menu items,” says Austintown Local Schools food service director, Tascin Brooks, DTR. Approximately 800 out of 1500 high school students came through to sample the seasonings that are now available daily at the new flavor station.

Fitch_SpiceTaste3_Jan2016 (2)

High school students sample different spices.

The spice bar went live the day after the test event with positive results. “The most popular flavors are the Cajun, sriracha, and garden seasonings. Students and staff were flavoring their vegetables, salads, and main entrees! We are very pleased with the response,” observed Brooks.

“We are always trying to think outside of the box to keep student dining services exciting. We want students to be excited about healthy eating and look forward to school meals,” added Brooks. The next event will feature a healthy cooking event, with the four Austintown Fitch High School principals competing against one another.

Healthy Cooking Throw Down

The healthy cooking throw down is modeled after popular television cooking challenges. Each principal will create a healthy item that includes vegetables flavored with spices from spice bar. The winning recipe will be featured on the school menu. High school culinary students will assist each principal as they create a reduced-fat corn chip chili pie recipe. The Fitch High School student body will vote on the entrée creations. The winning recipe will be featured on the menu during the following week.

Tips for a Successful Event

We asked these seasoned experts for advice on holding successful taste test and cooking events. Here are their tips:

  • Have fun! Students will follow your lead.
  • Invite others to the event. The group found that school board members, administrators, and teachers were happy to be involved, and were valuable role models during the event.
  • Ask for help. Think about university student interns, public health department educators, volunteer parent groups, and vendors.
  • Keep the momentum going!

Youngstown State University dietetic students William Masters, Chelsea Ludwiczak, and Cricket Murry assist Sue Hughes with the event at Sebring Local Schools.


Contributors of this blog post include:

Tascin Brooks, DTR, Food Services Director

Austintown Local Schools

Sue Hughes, Food Service Director

Sebring Local Schools

Beth Stefura, M Ed, RD, LD

Educator, OSU Extension


Food Factor Wheel adds a Spin to Taste Test Events

Schools in northeast Ohio put a new spin on nudging kids to eat their vegetables. Students step up, spin the Food Factor Wheel, and take a taste. In this game – everyone is a winner.

Boardman Local Schools

WHEEL.jpg“We are trying the wheel because if they do try it without the pressure of having it on their tray, then maybe they will say, ‘Oh, let me take one little bite,’ and they will like it versus having a bunch of it on their tray that they are intimidated by and then end up throwing away,” said Boardman food service director Natalie Winkle.

“You have to introduce it slowly so they will get accustom to it,” said Winkle. At Boardman, students tried one or more of the following items:

  • Roasted carrots
  • Edamame
  • Spinach
  • Parmesan zucchini straws
  • Rosemary and garlic roasted black beans
  • Beets
  • Sweet, spicy garbanzo beans

Beets were the big, surprising hit. Some students didn’t recognize the item – but that didn’t stop them from trying (and liking) the purple vegetable. Roasted black-beans were also very popular, especially after the principal gave the item two thumbs up.

Click HERE to see a video of the Food Factor Wheel in action!

Springfield Local Schools

TRAY.jpgSpringfield food service supervisor Joyce Dicks offered students a taste of some out-of-the-ordinary fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, and star fruit – with more common options of blueberries, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and yellow squash. “It was our first taste test event, and we wanted to get their attention – the variety of shapes and colors really created a lot of interest.  That said, we were surprised by the number of students who had not previously tried fresh cantaloupe or blueberries.”

Most of the 400 Springfield Local students sampled a fruit or vegetable and 90% of the kids found a fruit or vegetable that they liked. “That’s a huge success!” observed Dicks.

Springfield plans to build on the momentum by offering the kid-tested items within the menu or as part of the salad bar.  Plans are also underway to start a school garden where students grow their own greens.

The next taste test will feature roasted vegetables. “Roasting vegetables brings out a different, sweeter flavor in vegetables – we think our kids will be pleasantly surprised by the taste,” adds Dicks.


Researchers have found that kids become more interested in fruits and vegetables with repeated positive exposure, and exposure to a variety of items.

“We are going to do evaluations and see how the items perform when they appear on the menu. Based upon the overwhelming positive responses at the event, we expect fruit and vegetable selection to increase,” said Beth Stefura with the OSU Extension.

Next week, read about the creative way Austintown Local used pizza dough to introduce a spice bar and what happened when Sebring Schools added spaghetti squash to the wheel!

Sign up HERE to hold a taste test event at your school and receive 500 Official Taste Tester stickers. Click “Register Now” and receive your Taste Test Toolkit.


Contributors of this blog post include:

Beth Stefura, M Ed, RD, LD

Educator, OSU Extension

Natalie Winkle

Food Service Director, Boardman Food Services

Boardman Local Schools

Joyce Dicks

Nutrition Services Supervisor, Springfield School Nutrition

Springfield Local Schools

OHIO Statewide Taste Test Event!

Take a Taste Banner

Kids are creatures of habit, with a reluctance to try new foods. They’re more likely to take a bite of something new, rather than take a whole serving. A taste test event is a fun, pressure-free way to introduce bite-sized samples of new food items!

We’ve declared February as “OHIO Taste Test Month.” Join us in creating a statewide taste test event. Our goal is to reach ten thousand students. Help us achieve our goal and register today!

By registering, you will receive a Taste Test Toolkit, complete with recipes, stickers and promotional materials you’ll need to get started. Recipes include: slaws/salsa, dips/spreads, fresh combinations and spices.

Event Registration

To receive your Taste Test Toolkit, click on the “Register Today” button in the top left corner of the blog site. If you are using our mobile site, scroll to the bottom of the page to find the “Register Today” button. If you are having difficulty registering, or are unable to register, please contact us at

Event Resources

  • Purpose. Taste test events are beneficial for both students and cafeteria staff. Introducing new food items and identifying preferences is the key! You can find the many benefits associated in our  11 Reasons to Hold a Taste Test Event blog post.
  • Increasing Participation. The idea is to implement strategies that build interest. Check out our Taste Test Getting Started Guide to identify prime, place and appeal techniques to peak the interest of students.
  • Sampling and Recipe Ideas. Need help with taste test sample ideas? We’ve created a list of Suggested Sampling Ideas collected from various schools. Recipes are also included!
  • Event Materials. We offer a wide variety of free, downloadable event materials. Click on our Taste Test Event Resource page for stickers, posters and feedback card templates.
  • Evaluation and Measurement. Success of your event can be measured through appropriate documentation.  Download our Taste Test Event Evaluation Form and track your progress!
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