Tips for Taking Great School Nutrition Photos

Photographs allow us to document a moment so that experience can be shared with others. A good photo can educate and inspire. It can spark an idea in some else, or remind you of a moment of interest or inspiration.

Use photos to educate others about your school nutrition projects – and to inspire support for child nutrition. With your ever-present camera phone, capturing good photos can be done in a matter of seconds.

To make the most of your shots, follow these 6 basic tips:

Lighting is (super) important

Good lighting is essential to good photography – and natural lighting is the best. In cafeterias, use indirect sunlight from a window or skylight to illuminate the subject of your photos. Try moving food items closer to sunlight before taking pictures. Be careful, though, to avoid direct sunlight; this might create shadows on your composition.

Now let’s be realistic about sunlight and the cafeteria. Most of our serving areas and merchandisers will need to be photographed using artificial light. Overhead lights can cast a yellowish film over the subject matter. Try placing a light source to the side or behind the object.

Play with different angles

Just like people, food and spaces have better angles! For food photographs – like salad bars and meal trays – “top down” angles tend to work best. Place your camera over the item and snap.


Use a top down angle when taking photos of food

For subject matter like signs, people and dining areas, create interest and balance by applying the Rule of Thirds. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have a grid with 9 small squares. Place your subject matter at one of the four places where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.

K.I.S.S. your composition

Keep it simple – superstar! Limit distractions in your frame. Before you hit the red button – look around the composition. Remove the distractions – maybe a utensil, the crumbled napkin or a peeling wall sign.

Plain backgrounds also let the composition shine. Place food on a white napkin or light colored tray.

Move in close

Pictures that grab attention include interesting details. To capture the different shades of an apple, or the elements of a sign, step in close. Fill the frame with the subject.

Robert Capa, a photographer and photojournalist repeatedly observed, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Take a wide view too

Wide or panoramic views document set-up, placement and flow. This larger view of information can assist in planning and evaluating your Team Nutrition project. Before starting a redesign, take a few pictures that can be referenced later, after the update is complete.

Focus and REPEAT

An out of focus image is of little, to no, use. After picking the shot, adjusting the composition, and stepping in close – give the camera a moment to focus. Once it’s ready – snap.

Finish off the moment with our best piece of photography advice – take multiple shots of the same view. Keep one or two of the best photos; discard the remaining shots.

Need some inspiration? Here are three Instagram accounts that have been recognized for their food photographs. Enjoy!

11 Reasons to Hold a Taste Testing Event!

Kids are creatures of habit. They eat what they like and can be reluctant to try new things. Kids are more likely to take a bite of something new, rather than take a whole serving. Creating a taste test event is a great way to introduce bite-sized samples of new food items in a fun, pressure-free way!


A taste test event can be beneficial for both students and cafeteria staff. Below are our top 11 reasons to organize a tasting event – it was difficult to limit the list to just 11!

  1. Exposes students to new foods. A taste test event can get students thinking about food items in different non-traditional ways. For example, vegetables can be introduced as toppings for an entrée, as dips, or spreads for deli wraps.
  2. Learn about student preferences. Not only can you identify food item preference, but also preference for food preparation. Find out what students like and put it on the menu!
  3. Builds excitement. Create a buzz about taste test day! Use this event to promote local/seasonal foods, or sample a veggie grown from the school garden.
  4. TIME. When students enter the serving area, they are focused on selecting their lunch quickly. Stopping to try something new may not fit with their purpose. So – offer tastes outside the serving area or as grab and go items.
  5. Increases efficiency and decreases waste. Familiarizing students with new foods can ensure that the food item is marketable before appearing on the menu.
  6. Allows staff to tap into the creative side of work. Encourage participation from the entire staff and gather ideas for a fun, successful event!
  7. Opportunity to promote vegetables. Use a taste test event to nudge vegetables into the spotlight! Students may be more willing to try a vegetable item when other foods are not competing with it.
  8. Education. Taste testing is a quick, casual way to teach students about local food items, food properties, and healthy food choices.
  9. Opportunity to reinforce the behavior of trying new foods. Students may be motivated to taste test by watching their peers and teachers try new foods.
  10. Opens dialogue with current and potential customers. Use this event to increase consumption and participation! Ask about the likes and dislikes from packers, snackers and meal grabbers. Use the feedback to turn packers and snackers into meal-purchase backers!
  11. HAVE FUN! Create a theme for your event – incorporate music, have volunteers dress for the occasion. The idea is to create a fun, welcoming atmosphere for the students. This will be a day that kids will look forward to!

For additional information on how to conduct a taste test event, check out the Getting Started Guide under our Resources tab above. Downloadable posters, stickers and comment cards can be found on the Taste Test Materials page, also under the Resources tab above.

Taste Test Recipes

Are you looking for some new ideas to spice up your menu? Here are a few of our favorite, simple recipes to taste test!

  1. Pineapple Slaw – the recipe blends broccoli, pineapple, green onion, cream, sugar and few other spices into a sweet, creamy spread kids are going to love! This is a perfect addition for any deli sandwich or wrap!
  2. Corn and Bean Salsa – this recipe blends corn, black beans, tomatoes, red bell pepper and a mixture of herbs and spices to create a fresh orange/lime flavored salsa. This recipe is sure to win over students and is a perfect addition to a build-your-own burrito day!

You can find these recipes, and many more, under the Resources tab above!


Screenshot_2015-10-07-12-54-13 (2)During the month of November we will be running a basket challenge! Put your best basket to the test and win one of our 18 x 24, full color foam board Taste Test posters. We’ll also include 500 of our “Official Taste Tester” stickers!

Send us your basket photo to Every entry will receive 100 of our “Official Taste Tester” stickers. The winner will be announced the last week of November.

Check back next week for a post on how to create your award winning basket!

How Does Your Cafeteria Score?

Why do we need to complete environmental checklists? Think about your daily work routine. You encounter the same co-workers, tend to the same tasks and know your work place environment like the back of your hand. With familiarity, though, we may not notice smaller details. The environmental checklist allows you to see your workplace through a different lens.

CodersThe Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard is a simple way to identify opportunities for improvement. This easy-to-complete scorecard focuses on six key cafeteria service areas:

  • Focusing on fruit
  • Promoting vegetables and salad
  • Moving more white milk
  • Entrée of the day
  • Increasing sales and reimbursable meals
  • Creating school synergies

Check the items that are already in place. Once the scorecard is complete, take time to review the unchecked items. The unchecked items can become areas to address in your cafeteria update!

Using Photos

While you’re filling out your Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard, grab a camera and take some shots! Photos can also help you see your cafeteria through a different lens.  Make sure to capture all aspects of the cafeteria, including the service areas. These photos will be helpful later in documenting change. Follow these simple tips for great photos:

  1. Make sure the item/area is well lit
  2. Play with different angles
  3. Take multiple shots of the same subject
  4. Move in close to catch details
  5. Click a wide view to show set-up and flow

Involve Others

The scorecard can be a useful tool for getting others involved in your project. Ask teachers, parents and wellness committee members to fill out a scorecard too. It doesn’t hurt to have a fresh set of eyes to help your team achieve success! After reviewing the scorecards, you and your team will likely have plenty of great ideas!

Set a Goal

Before painting walls, buying baskets and moving milk cartons, take a brief moment and decide what you would like to accomplish with your cafeteria update. What behavior changes would you like to see through your project? This is your project goal. By setting goals and sharing progress updates, others will be able to follow your success story. Check back on our next blog to learn more about goal setting!

Click on the link below to access your Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard!

Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment

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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