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.

Bundling: A Two For One Deal!

For students, time is a commodity during a busy lunch period. Kids may forgo the lunch line to save time for socializing. Cut down line waiting by providing food items that take little time to serve and are easy to grab. Quicker lines equal increased participation and higher sales!

Bundled, “grab-and-go” meals are a simple, alternative way for providing reimbursable meals, while also making it easy and convenient for kids to eat healthy.

What to Include?

Before stocking the coolers with “grab-and-go” meals, have your staff come up with creative combinations.

  • Choose what students like. “Grab-and-go” meals don’t always have to be a sandwich and an apple. Bundle together food items that sell and comply with USDA guidelines for a reimbursable meal.
  • Rotate items. Continuously rotate food items that are bundled to maintain student interest.

Here are a few examples of non-traditional “grab-and-go” meals:

  • Deli wrap with a bright colored fruit cup
  • Pairing fruits and veggies with a side of hummus
  • Specialty salad with a muffin
  • Pairing yogurt and fruit with a side of homemade granola

Need ideas? Ask the students! Find out what they would like to be bundled together. The next step is to then identify a high traffic area for placement.

Location is Key!

Bundled meals should be easily accessible to students. Identify a high traffic area that would be ideal for a “grab-and-go” station.

Bundling Image

  • Use all-in-one stations. Place the bundled meals in a cooler that includes beverages. “Grab-and-go” stations should be a one stop shop for students.
  • Convenient and easy to grab. Place bundled meals on the middle shelf of a pantry, refrigerator or cooler.
  • Multiple locations is best. Make room for bundled meals in speed lines, such as the a la carte area or snack line.
  • Utilize a mobile cart. If possible, place bundled meals on a mobile cart to identify hot spot, high traffic areas.

If your cafeteria is new to “grab-and-go” meals, make sure to communicate the new options to students to encourage participation.

  • Use announcements
  • Verbally prompt students
  • Use signage

Bundled, “grab-and-go” reimbursable meals are another option for increasing participation and sales.  Start bundling in your cafeteria today!

Share Your Ideas!

What are the “grab-and-go” combinations you use in your cafeteria? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

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