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.

 

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.

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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.

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Vegetable waste decreased when elementary students served themselves.

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.

 

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