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.

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

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.


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.

Writing Contest Encourages Future Chefs

The fifth grade students at Diley Middle School wrote essays about their interest in cooking, and stated why they wanted to be chef for the day. Writers of the winning essays earned an opportunity to cook for their peers. The event drew close to 300 entries – and increased meal participation.

Chef for the Day

The Food Service Department staff created the writing contest as a way to further involve Pickerington students into school nutrition activities. Head cook Becky Loar created a videotaped message explaining the writing contest, and encouraged all students to submit an entry. The message played during the morning announcements and the response was tremendous. Excerpts from the winning entries are below:

Arlo exclaimed, “I come from a long line of amazing chefs!”

Ella described “the calming sense” she receives when cooking, and how much she enjoys the process as “sweet aromas are spreading happiness through you.”

Layla kept her reasoning simple and straight from the heart: “I love to cook and bake with my Mom, and I am very good in the kitchen.”

The three student winners helped Chef Pierre and the Diley kitchen staff cut, cook and plate toppings for a school-wide taste test event in April. “It was a fun day with lots of positive energy,” noted Judy Riley, Supervisor of Food Service. “Student sous chefs were thrilled to be part of the event and took an active role in encouraging their peers to try something new.”


Heather Hedgepeth (Diley Principal), Judy Riley (Food Service Supervisor), Chef Pierre Wolf and Heather Loar (Diley Head Cook) prepare for the taste test event.

Taste Testing with the Student Chefs

All 580 Diley Middle School students received a sample of two different pizzas. The Chicken Poblano Mexican Pizza featured a soft pliable crust. Personalized toppings included fire-roasted Poblano peppers, refried beans, diced tomatoes, corn and black bean salsa and red onions. The Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza featured sun dried tomato sauce, fire-roasted garlic, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and sliced mushrooms. Students loved the ability to personalize their pizza with the various vegetable-based toppings.

  • 90% of the students who tried the pizza stated that they would buy it again.
  • Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza was the most popular topping, sampled by 70% of the students.

Chef for the Day increased meal participation at Diley Middle School by 100 meals, and the two vegetable-enhanced pizzas are now on the menu.

Smarter Lunchroom Strategies throughout the District

Chef for the Day was one part of Pickerington Local Schools year-long plan to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. At all the elementary and middle schools locations, staff added a variety of new items to the menu, placed fruit baskets in busy locations, moved salad bars to a more visible location and hung colorful posters in the dining area.  Highlights include:

  • Nacho munchables – a new vegetable and bean nacho entrée was added at four elementary and one middle school. The item is now a K-6 meat alternate.
  • Carrots and celery with hummus dip won a taste test and has been added to the weekly menu as a meat alternate.
  • Harmon Middle School added Salad Bar Wednesday and a Sub Bar Day to encourage vegetable purchases. The salad bar is rolled out to the cafeteria on Sub Bar Days to encourage veggie toppings to both sandwiches and salads. The Supervisor noted that vegetable waste is now minimized and students are adding extra vegetables to their subs. The sale of both salads and subs has increased.

Activities from this project were funded by a United States Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition Training Grant.


Harmon Middle School kitchen staff added Sub Bar Day to the menu. Students can add a variety of vegetable toppings to their sandwich.


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.


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!


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.

Shake Up School Lunch with Brunch!

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, Chef Carrie Beegle and her “A-Team” – head Cloverleaf chefs Tammy Cooper and Joyce Meyer – wowed us with simple, commodity-based recipes that bring breakfast to lunch.

Carrie and Team

Chef Tammy Cooper, Chef Carrie Beegle and Chef Joyce Meyer

Three Breakfast Inspired Recipes

Chef Carrie demonstrated three unique, restaurant quality “breakfast for lunch” ideas: blender-less smoothies, breakfast nachos and a Southwest omelet with O’Brien skillet potatoes. In addition to the recipes, she shared tips on how to present restaurant quality food in the cafeteria. “You don’t have to be a master chef to make something look pretty,” she said. Meals that look good catch the eye of kids and encourage selection!

Blender-less Smoothies: No blender? No problem! Chef Carrie demonstrated two simple ways to offer smoothies without the hassle of expensive equipment.

Smoothie Photo

“Hippity Hop” smoothie

First up, the “Hippity Hop!” Using a Burr mixer, she combined low-fat strawberry yogurt, chilled orange juice and cooked carrots to create 30 to 40 servings in under 10 minutes! This creamy, orange smoothie had a surprisingly sweet taste that kids will love. Next, the “Orange Julius” smoothie was even simpler and just as delicious! Chef Carrie whisked together low-fat vanilla yogurt, chilled orange juice and unsweetened applesauce for a creamy concoction that would give the popular franchise a run for their money!

Presentation Tip – Chef Carrie plans on combining the “Hippity Hop” with bunny graham crackers to create a complete breakfast and a special holiday treat!

For more information regarding blender-less smoothie techniques and recipes, check out the Made for Participation Smoothie Guide offered by General Mills Foodservice.

Breakfast Nachos: We all know kids love nachos – here’s another spin on them! It’s a simple construction of tortilla chips and breakfast staples, topped with Queso and fresh pico de gallo. Chef Carrie mixed cooked sausage and scrambled eggs together to create a “confetti-like” look, while layering the rest of the ingredients.

Exhibition NachosPresentation Tip – Chef Joyce Meyer roasted a medley of spiced kidney and black beans to add a little texture and crunch!


Southwest Omelet & O’Brien Skillet Potatoes: This cheese omelet topped with chili was absolutely delicious! Chef Tammy showed us how simple it was to prepare, while Chef Joyce sautéed a blend of potatoes, red and green peppers along with diced sweet onion to round out the dish.

Exhibition OmeletPresentation Tip – To add a little flair, garnish the entrée with a few scallions and a dab of Greek yogurt! The chefs at Cloverleaf recommend using a Greek yogurt-filled squirt bottle for ease.



Click HERE to download Chef Carrie Beegle’s “breakfast for lunch” recipes.

Carrie Beegle is the food service director for Cloverleaf and Mapleton Local school districts. She has 18 years’ experience in school food service with another 8 years as a chef. She has a passion for utilizing government commodity foods in unique ways. As a consultant chef for the “Healthy Cuisine for Kids” series, sponsored by ODE Team Nutrition, Carrie has been able to help many schools move towards developing healthier menu options.

Farm to School: An $800 Million Investment in Local Foods, Local Economies

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the major benefits we’re seeing in schools and districts that have established a farm to school program. Their efforts are giving students a deep understanding and appreciation for where their food comes from and drastically shifting kids’ opinions of fruits and veggies.

Farm to School

The final results of the USDA Farm to School Census 2015 shed light on another huge benefit of farm to school – we’re talking $789 million huge. That’s the total amount schools report investing in their communities in school year 2013 – 2014 by purchasing local food from farmers, ranchers, fisherman, food processors and manufacturers. This represents a 105 percent increase over school year 2011 – 2012, when the first USDA Farm to School Census was conducted. In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of districts engaged in farm to school report that they plan to purchase more local foods in the coming years.

These funds are a major boost to local communities, helping sustain local food systems by providing a consistent, reliable customer base. With farm to school, “you have a customer, an able buyer willing to pay fair market price and buy in bulk,” explained Chuck McCool of McCool Farms in Arkansas. As Chuck puts it, “Farm to school is the greatest thing that’s happened to vegetable farmers since… well since I can’t remember when! I can’t remember what would have been better than farm to school… It’s a win-win for everybody.”

But the benefits aren’t just limited to vegetable farmers; farm to school programs present economic opportunities for the whole agricultural industry. Fruits, vegetables and milk top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, but schools indicate that they’d like to also buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers in the future. And these types of programs aren’t only seen in states known for their agriculture like Iowa or Nebraska. The Census results show that farm to school programs are present in every state across the country, in schools large and small, rural and urban.

We’ve recognized a few of these programs on our Farm to School Census page, highlighting three programs per state that are beating their state’s average spending on local foods. But we know there are many more schools out there that are doing innovative work through their farm to school programs.  That’s why we’re inviting you to vote for the farm to school program that you think is ‘One in a Melon!’ Now through April 15 you can nominate a school that you believe has an exemplary farm to school program. So check out the extended results of the Farm to School Census and cast your vote today! Winners will be announced this May.

The original article be found on the USDA blog site, posted by:

Janna Raudenbush, Public Affairs Specialist, Food and Nutrition Service.


Ohio Farm to School Resources

Ohio’s Farm to School Program provides kids with fresh, local products, as well as advocates for local farming communities. Through the Farm to School Program, kids learn where food comes from and how food choices will affect their health, the environment and their community. Here are a variety of ways to incorporate farm to school into your cafeteria and classrooms:

Lunchroom Lingo

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is one of the largest food service operations in the country, serving nearly 30 million students annually. In Ohio, roughly one million meals are served daily at over 4,000 sites across the state.

School lunches provide kids with a nutritious meal, which has been shown to improve focus and academic performance. Daily participation in the School Lunch Program helps develop healthy eating behaviors that children can carry into adulthood. The NSLP also provides opportunities for introducing kids to new foods they may not be experiencing at home. Introduction to new food items can broaden the range of student selection, which can ensure they are eating an adequate, well-balanced diet.

NSLP Photo

While the benefits of school meals are commonly known, some of the terminology within meal programs can be confusing. Here is some lingo that can help you become a school nutrition advocate:

Reimbursable Meal – In order for a lunch to be considered complete, five food items must be offered to students (milk, fruit, vegetable, protein, and grain). For the meal to be considered reimbursable, students must select at least three full portions of the five offered items, with at least one choice being a fruit or vegetable.

All reimbursable meals qualify for government reimbursement if they follow USDA requirements and nutrition standards, are served to eligible students, and are priced as a whole meal rather than individual food items. Reimbursement is provided through the United States Department of Agriculture, as federal and state cash payments. Reimbursement amount depends on student eligibility – free, reduced, or paid.

Free, Reduced and Paid Meals – Kids eligible for free meals come from families with an income at or below 130% (roughly $31,005/yr. for a family of 4) of the poverty level. Those eligible for reduced priced meals come from families with an income between 130% and 185% (roughly $44,123/yr. for a family of 4) of the poverty level. Kids from families above 185% of the poverty level pay full price for their school lunch.

NSLP reimbursement rates for 2014/2015 school year:

  • Free lunches: $2.93
  • Reduced price lunches: $2.53
  • Paid lunches: $0.28
  • Free snacks: $0.80
  • Reduced price snacks: $0.40
  • Paid snacks: $0.07
  • Schools certified as meeting the new nutrition standards receive an additional $.06 per lunch.
  • An additional $.02 per lunch is provided to schools in which 60 percent or more of the second preceding school year lunches were served free or reduced price.

Program Fact Sheet, National School Lunch Program, 2014 data

A la Carte

A la carte items are any food or beverage not sold as a part of reimbursable meals. These items cannot be purchased or included under free or reduced lunch meal eligibility.

Offer vs. Serve (OVS) – Pre-plated meals serve all food components, in the appropriate proportions, and contain the minimum daily requirements under the meal pattern guidelines. Family style meals allow students to serve themselves and give them the choice of selection, with the supervision of cafeteria staff.

The ultimate goal of OVS is to provide students with a wide variety of selection, while reducing excessive amounts of waste.

Certification of Compliance – School districts that fall under the certification of compliance with the new NSLP meal requirements are eligible for an additional 6-cents per lunch reimbursement. This additional reimbursement, provided through the Hunger-Free Kids Act, incentivizes districts to improve the quality of school meals.

Community Eligibility Provisions (CEP) – Schools and local educational agencies with high rates of poverty are able to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

For more definitions of terms related to the school meal programs, check out the glossary provided by the National Food Service Management Institute. For further information on school meal trends and stats, take a look at the USDA – National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet.

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