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.

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!

Elements of an AWESOME Sign

An easy way to communicate with students is through quality signage. Signs can peak interest and sell an item! Signs can vary in style, as well as effectiveness though. An Impactful sign includes a specific message and use of color, layout, and materials in a professional manner.

Before you break out the paint, you need to decide which type of signs your cafeteria may need. Sign type differs based on the purpose or message being presented.

Types of Signage:

  1. Directional: Directional signs are used to help students locate specific food items or food sections within the cafeteria. For example, signs that say “wraps” or “salad bar” direct students to where these items are located.
  1. Instructional: Instructional signs may be necessary when specific food items require an explanation. For example, if the item of the day is a “build-your-own burger,” it may be helpful for students to provide signage with a brief description of the process.
  1. Priming: Priming, or promotional, signs grab the interest of students! Promotional signage can introduce a new food item, highlight a local food item, or encourage trial of an item. This type of sign focuses on the appeal of the item. Place promotional signage throughout the school, as well as near new or featured items.

Try to incorporate all three types of signage throughout the school, cafeteria, and food service area.

Once you’ve figured out the type of signs needed, it’s time to create! There are a few common components of effective signage. Here are some things to consider when creating your cafeteria signs.

  • Message. All signs should have a clear message or purpose. Design the sign around the message.
  • Keep it visible and legible. Less really is more. You want students to be able to read a sign at a glance. Keep your message short and concise. Visibility is one of the most important aspects of a sign. The size of the sign should be appropriate for the distance and height from the view of students. Take careful consideration of the location of signage and identify what obstacles may be in the way.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid clutter. Crowding a sign with too many words or pictures makes it hard to read from a distance. Students have a short amount of time to select their lunch components. Signs that are too wordy or complex may be overlooked.

The two photos below are signs that were used to promote vegetable-based toppings. Version one, on top, was too busy and difficult to read. In version two, most of the copy was cut. Keeping the sign simple made it easier to read, and placed the focus on the entrée and the suggested topping. Version two was a hit!


#1 – Too Busy


#2 – Simple

  • Use color and contrast. Use bright, contrasting colors to accentuate the message. Light border or text on a dark background are easier to read. Without contrast, your message cannot be read. The “Marvelous Mushroom” sign below is a great example of contrast.

The blue and white against the black background really makes the name pop.

  • Include pictures. Pictures attract students to signs and are especially helpful for priming and increasing the appeal of food items. Pictures can also help illustrate steps described in instructional signs.
  • Recruit a graphic designer. Graphic designers know design! They can take your message and give it a polished look. A graphic designer can also create a consistent theme (color and look) across all signage. If you do not have access to a designer, ask the school art or computer teacher to identify a talented student.

Visit the Resources section above for signs and posters that can be downloaded and used in your cafeteria. If you have any photos of your AWESOME signs that you’d like to share with other school nutrition teams, please send them to us – we would love to share your ideas!

Add the USDA to Your Team Nutrition

Team NutritionWhat if we told you with one simple click you could have hundreds of FREE resources available at your fingertips? Recipes, menus, MyPlate materials, colorful stickers and posters, staff training programs – all delivered directly to your office or simply downloaded to your computer. Team Nutrition is available to guide your cafeteria project to success!

Team Nutrition

I’m sure you are wondering what exactly is Team Nutrition? This initiative is part of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, supporting the Child Nutrition Programs. Team Nutrition focuses on training and technical assistance for foodservice, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.

Resource Bank

One of our main goals is to fill your resource bank with materials to aid in your nutrition initiatives. Three large categories of resources available through Team Nutrition are – Promotional Items, Menus and Recipes, and Curriculum and Education.

The following are resources recommended by Ohio Team Nutrition Coordinator, Susan Patton. Susan said it was hard to pick just three resources, but these are her current “go-to” materials:

  1. Try Day StickerMake Today a Try-Day Stickers – These fun stickers are great for reinforcing students’ willingness to try new food items! Use them with a taste-testing event or designate a day of the week as a “Try It Day”.
  1. Menus that Move – Menus that Move is a set of seasonal cycle menus that incorporate USDA new meal guidelines. Each seasonal cycle menu contains five weekly menus for grades K-8 and 9-12.

Garden Detective

  1. The Great Garden Detective Adventure – This is a standards-based gardening nutrition curriculum for grades 3 and 4. Through investigations and fun experiences, kids discover which fruits and vegetables are the sweetest, crunchiest, and juiciest! This resource is excellent for connecting the school garden to the classroom, school cafeteria, and home.

For hundreds of other resources, check out the Team Nutrition Healthy Meals Resource System. Take advantage of all that Team Nutrition has to offer. You’ll be amazed at what you might find!

Join the Team

Team Nutrition Schools focus attention on the importance of nutritious school meals, nutrition education, and a health promoting school environment. By doing so, students learn to enjoy healthy eating and physical activity. Team Nutrition Schools work together with school nutrition staff, teachers, parents, the media and other community members to encourage healthy behaviors. To learn more about Team Nutrition behavior focused strategies and school enrollment, follow the link below.

Become a Team Nutrition School!

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!

The Lunch Tray

kids and food, in school and out

Live Healthy Live Well

Ohio State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences

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Featuring school nutrition programs that serve kids well

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