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.

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School mascot Bucky Beaver joined the fun.

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!”

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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.

 

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
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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.

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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.

Students Enjoy International Flavor


Knox County Career Center students recently sampled pho, the national dish of Vietnam, and then learned how to prepare the soup at home.

Knox County Career Center (Knox CCC) is located in Mount Vernon, Ohio. In this non-traditional high school setting, students prepare for a career while also completing their junior and senior years. Bruce Kreidler, Food Service Director, thought his students would enjoy the unique flavors of the soup – and he was right!

Pho Adds International Flavor

Pho is a broth and noodle soup that also includes ½ cup of vegetables. Carrots, cabbage, zucchini, green onions and cilantro were added to rice noodles and served in a warm broth. The soup was a big success – 322 students and staff enjoyed the new item.

  • Students liked the combination of bite-sized vegetables with the rice noodles.
  • A handful of students also appreciated that the soup was gluten-free.

Not only was the soup tasty, it was easy to prepare.

Traditionally, pho is made with beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga). Kreidler made his pho with a turkey broth made from scratch using leftover turkey bones from the school’s Thanksgiving meals. Making his own broth was economical and allowed him to control the sodium content in the soup. Rice noodles were pre-cooked by soaking them in hot water for 30 minutes. The noodles were then placed in small bowls, with the hot broth added on top.

Dishes of Pho

Pho is a broth-based soup that includes vegetables and rice noodles. This version included carrots, cabbage, zucchini, green onions and cilantro in a warm turkey broth.

Students Prepare Pho for Families

At the conclusion of the lunch period, Chef Kreidler taught interested students how to prepare the soup. Students julienned carrots, used a mandolin to slice the cabbage and zucchini, and diced the onions and cilantro.

Several of the cooking class attendees recreated the dish for their families. The students reported their families enjoyed the deceptively simple, yet flavorful variation on chicken noodle soup.

“Pho is great comfort food,” remarked one Knox CCC student who cooked the noodle dish for her family.

Carrot, Kale & Spinach Smoothies

Pho was just one of the cooking events Kreidler implemented with his students. Earlier in the year, Kreidler set up a smoothie station in the cafeteria. Bowls overflowing with fresh carrots, kale, spinach, peaches, blueberries and pineapple were placed alongside a blender.

The bright green and purple smoothies grabbed the attention of every high school student.

  • 120 samples were consumed during breakfast.
  • 375 samples were consumed during lunch.

“I can’t even taste the vegetables in this smoothie!” exclaimed one student. “When can we have this on the menu on a regular basis?” asked several others. The high price of the ingredients will limit adding the smoothies to the menu on a regular basis, but Kreidler will explore ways to offer the smoothies for special occasions.

The two cooking events had high participation and high customer satisfaction. Students tasted 827 samples of new food items, and Kreidler reported that approximately 75% of the student body had positive responses to the smoothies and the soup.

Soups and smoothies are two alternative ways to offer vegetables within school meals. Give pho a try in 2017 and let us know how it goes!

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Chef Kreidler tops rice noodles and vegetables with a homemade broth. The high school students enjoyed the international twist on chicken noodle soup.

 

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.

screen-shot-summit-posters

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!

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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.

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.

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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!

https://www.instagram.com/wrightkitchen/

https://www.instagram.com/smittenkitchen/

https://www.instagram.com/whiteonricecouple/

Food Co-ops Provide Fresh Ideas


It’s a summer ritual of hundreds at the annual meeting of Ohio school nutrition professionals – the School Nutrition Expo. You never know what tasty new product you will find. There, in the last row with the simplest of displays, were two of the freshest ideas of the expo.

  • Amish cheeses
  • Urban grown lettuce greensCo-Op Cheese

Cubed cheeses in hues of yellow and orange filled a table centered with a 10-gallon milk can. The can is actually used to transport local milk to the cheese processing plant. Talk about fresh!

Co-Op LettuceThe second display contained four boxes of bright, fluffy greens – red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and spinach. The lettuce and cheeses are available through local cooperatives and are available to schools through Sysco Cleveland. The fresh food was the star of these displays!

Food Co-Ops

Middlefield Original Cheese is a farmer-owned co-op started back in 1956. Ninety-eight percent of the members are Amish and live on small family farms, milking their small dairy herd by hand. From early spring to late fall, the cows are out on pasture, enjoying the luscious grass and sunshine. Cooperative members believe that by keeping the land and cows healthy, a creamier and healthier cheese can be produced.

Green City Growers Cooperative began operations in 2012 with a 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse in a neighborhood of Cleveland. It is the largest food production greenhouse in a core urban area in the U.S. – the greenhouse produces 3 million heads of lettuce annually. The cooperative also believes in social responsibility. Green City employees are employee-owners and share in the profits of the business. Green City also donates 1% of all the leafy greens produced to the Cleveland Foodbank.

Consider food cooperatives as another school nutrition partner.

Be Inspired!


Summer is here! With additional free time, take the opportunity to recharge and generate new ideas for the upcoming school year. Inspiration is all around us – in the garden, at the grocery store, or in an unexpected place.  Step out into the community and grab some inspiration. Here are two of our favorite pieces of inspiration –

Color and Contrast

Veggie DisplayDoesn’t this colorful display draw you in? Take a minute and identify three features that capture your attention. One, two, three.

The display includes three bright colors: orange, green and purple. The white and dark green vegetables also provide eye-catching contrast. Placing the vegetables in different positions creates depth and texture. Shapes – did you notice the square of carrots and the circles of parsnips? Use the natural beauty of fruits and vegetables to create product areas that grab the interest of hungry shoppers.

Prime with Signs

Mushroom Signage (2)Good signage is easy-to-read, includes a creative name, and uses color to attract attention to key phrases. All three elements are at work in the “Marvelous Mushroom” sign! Marvelous is a descriptive adjective that immediately attracts attention and enhances taste expectations. Who wouldn’t want to try a marvelous mushroom? The blue and white text against the black background also makes the name pop. Lastly, signage is the centerpiece, but displaying a wide variety of mushrooms in baskets around the sign works to encourage selection. All-round, a great display!

Now it is your turn. Be the inspiration – share your ideas with us! Take some time to step out into your community and show us your inspiration. Send us photos, so we can share your story with other readers!

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