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!”

northridge_thesnackposter

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.

 

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.

SHOW US YOUR APPLES!

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!

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