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.

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.

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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.

Meals Matter!


If your daily participation increased by nine meals a day, what would be the financial impact of those nine meals? Take a quick guess…

About $4,800 a year?

Healthy Lunch TrayThat is correct – increasing participation by nine meals a day could generate an additional $4,800 a year. Here’s the math: 9 meals a day at a price of $3 a day for 180 days = $4860. This quick example illustrates the importance of average daily attendance (ADP) to a healthy school meal program.

A nutritious school lunch energizes children for an afternoon of learning and establishes eating patterns that will carry them into a healthy adulthood. Consistent levels of meal participation are also healthy for the school lunch program. Regular meal participation allows staff to efficiently plan menus which leads to lesser amounts of waste.

Over the 2015-2016 academic year, Ohio Team Nutrition schools and their local partners will implement a variety of strategies to increase fruit, vegetable, and overall meal consumption.

Average daily participation (ADP) is an important indicator of school lunch performance. There can be some confusion on how to calculate it. This summer, in a workshop by Susan Peterman from the Institute of Child Nutrition, we learned how to calculate this important target. Here’s what we learned:

1) To calculate ADP, first calculate the average number of reimbursable meals served per day (Average Meals). Calculate it over a period of time, typically a month, to account for variations by day of the week, student absenteeism, etc.

Average Meals per Day =

(Meals Served ÷ Number of Days) x 100%

2) Next, obtain the average daily attendance number from the school. Subtract students, if any, who do not have access to the school lunch program. For example, students who attend half-day kindergarten may be excluded from the calculation.

Student Access to School  Lunch Program = 

                  Student Attendance – Number of Students Without Access                                                               

3) ADP calculation is then the average meals divided by the number of eligible students.

Average Daily Participation =

(Average Meals ÷ Student Access) X 100%

Here’s an example:

Step 1: Calculate Average Meals

8,200 meals sold in October / 20 days = 410 Average Meals

Step 2: Calculate the Students with Access to School Lunch

650 average student attendance in October – 50 students without access =

600 Students with Access to Lunch

Step 3: Calculate ADP

410 average meals / 650 students = 63% participation

Download a blank ADP worksheet under the Resources tab on the main menu above.

ADP is one component of our efforts to measure school lunch performance. Other common measures include:

  • Fruit and Vegetable selection – calculated through production records
  • Salad bar use – calculated by observation or production records
  • Percentage of students who eat a serving of vegetables – calculated through tray waste
  • Percentage of students who eat a serving of fruit – calculated through tray waste

Check back later for new blog posts regarding other school lunch performance measures.

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