Using Taste Tests to Promote Your School Nutrition Program

Click image to download USDA poster/sticker JPG

Click image to download USDA poster/sticker JPG

Often times simply changing menu options is not enough to increase participation. Promoting new options is a key step in getting students to choose them. Taste tests for students are a fun and interactive way to gauge how receptive students are to a new recipe before offering it on the menu plus it allows you to get useful feedback that can be used to implement changes in the future. Taste testing exposes children to new and different foods. Did you know that a child might have to try a food up to ten or more times before accepting it?

The Ohio Smarter Lunchrooms Movement Taste Testing Getting Started Guide offers tips to increase student participation in taste tests so that you can get the most accurate assessment of student preferences possible.

  • Promote the event with signage to get students excited for taste testing day! Be sure to include appealing features of the item and creative adjectives to describe it.
  • Set up the taste testing station in a place that will prompt students as they pass –don’t forget to use verbal prompts to encourage students to taste.
  • Ensure that the sample item is visually appealing to students. Fresh, colorful, bite size portions are best.
  • Document feedback from surveys, comment cards, student votes, or verbal responses. Click here to download a free taste testing form from USDA.

    Mount Clemens, Michigan Broccoli Carrot Salad samples

 

VT Feed’s Guide to Taste Testing Local Food in Schools suggests developing a food committee of parents and teachers who support the program while ­­­­­other schools have started student clubs that help generate new food ideas that can be used for preliminary testing or to help prepare the food for taste testing day.

Additional taste test resources such as fliers, comment cards, stickers, and posters are available on the Ohio Smarter Lunchroom page. For additional resources on taste testing, visit JSI’s Resource Center.

Left image credit: this image was found on the School Meals that Rock Pinterest page.

Farm to School –Supporting Local Agriculture

apples2Offering locally grown foods in your school nutrition program can help encourage students to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, increase meal participation, decrease waste while supporting the local agricultural economy and reduce the carbon footprint of the community!

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) serves as a national networking program focused on facilitating relationships between local farms and communities seeking locally sourced food. Additionally, NFSN helps bring food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools. Since its inception in the late 1990s, participation has grown tremendously. The USDA Farm to School Census indicates that schools across the country invested more than half a billion dollars in local foods in the 2013-2014 school year with more than 42,000 schools involved in farm to school activities.

2016 USDA Farm to School Grants were awarded to four organizations in Massachusetts for training, implementation, and support service including Massachusetts Farm to School Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger in Amherst, Quincy Public Schools, Somerville Public Schools, and The Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester. Congratulations to all recipients!

The Massachusetts Farm to School Project is the local branch of the NFSN that provides individual assistance to school cafeterias and other institutional food service operations across the state. The MA Farm to School Project also works to promote local food and agriculture education for students and through their Harvest of the Month campaign they are inspiring healthy food choices by encouraging schools to increase student exposure to Massachusetts’ seasonal foods.

“The Massachusetts Farm to School Project seeks to increase access to healthy, locally grown food in schools and other institutions for the good of our children, our farms and our communities.”

MA Farm to School will join a panel in one of the sessions at the upcoming Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit scheduled for May 24th and 25th, 2016! Be sure to visit JSI’s Resource Center for more Farm to School resources.

2015 MA School Breakfast Challenge Summit

 

JSI MA School Breakfast ChallengeWednesday December 3 the 2015 Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge Summit took place at the Putnam Club at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. The summit was hosted by MA Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education, New England Dairy and Food Council, Child Nutrition Outreach Program at Project Bread, School Nutrition Association of MA, MA Dept. of Agricultural Resources, and the Eos Foundation.

Kevin Concannon

Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, USDA

Keynote speaker Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and
Consumer Services for the USDA discussed that school breakfast is more than just consuming calories but also an opportunity for education. He explained that for children, having school breakfast contributes to better social skills, reduced absenteeism, and reduced tardiness. Further emphasizing it’s importance he regarded school breakfast as a function of public safety for the nation’s youth.

From left to right: Karen Pappa, Food Services Director of Taunton Public Schools; Dianne Owens, Cafeteria Manager at Taunton Public Schools; John Cabral, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations at Taunton Public Schools; Julianna Valor, Audit and Compliance Specialist, ESE Child Nutrition Health & Safety

From left to right: Karen Pappa, Food Services Director of Taunton Public Schools; Dianne Owens, Cafeteria Manager at Taunton Public Schools; John Cabral, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations at Taunton Public Schools

Following the keynote were several breakout session options. One of the morning breakout sessions was Tools for a Successful After the Bell, Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) Program. This began with an exemplary video of Chicopee’s Stefanik School Breakfast in the Classroom Program. Following that was a moderated question and answer session with School Breakfast Teams from Taunton Public Schools and Malden Public Schools to discuss how to implement a successful BIC program. Some of the challenges they faced include: getting school staff onboard, lack of storage, and milk disposal in the classrooms. However, they clarified that once these kinks are worked out the results have proven that the project was well worth the challenges encountered. Benefits they have seen since implementing BIC include reduction in the number of tardy students, fewer student referrals to the office, decreased nurse visits, plus the program contributes to an increased sense of community and pride for the students who alternate the job of delivering the meals to the classrooms each day. Taunton and Malden School Breakfast Teams identified the key to a successful implementation as being frequent communication with school staff to reduce resistance and negative feelings that might arise during the early stages of the program.

After lunch, former Patriot’s player Jermaine Wiggins spoke on the topic. He urged the audience to make sure that it is their obligation to make a difference in the lives of children and explained that the children will not forget this. He recalled memories of what specific teachers, coaches, and other adults did for him when he was in school. Jermaine believes that frequent reiteration is important to instill health and wellness concepts in children and build their confidence.

Are you trying to improve or implement a school breakfast program? Check out JSI’s School Breakfast Resources! To see more images from the 2015 School Breakfast Summit, visit The JOHN STALKER INSTITUTE (JSI) Rocks Pinterest page.

Expanding School Breakfast

There are many benefits to school breakfast, including preventing obesity and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. To encourage school breakfast, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has awarded USDA School Breakfast Expansion grants to school districts in Mass. for 2015, including: Brockton, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Medford, Peabody, Salem, SEEM Collaborative, Taunton, and Wareham. School districts are eligible if 40% or more of lunches served to students are free or reduced price. The expansion grant helps schools to improve and implement school breakfast models that incorporate the USDA meal plan requirements for School Breakfast Programs (SBPs) and increase participation in the SBP.

The John Stalker Institute is assisting with providing professional development for school districts awarded this grant. Through the professional development workshops, school nutrition staff learn:

In the workshop, school nutrition staff participate in a hands-on breakfast food demo, including discussion on how to develop a breakfast menu, and how to prepare healthy hot and cold breakfasts.

Breakfast

Ways to increase awareness about school breakfast programs include:

  • Attending school open houses
  • Sending home or e-mailing informational flyers or letters
  • Posting menus online
  • Hosting a parent breakfast

Congratulations to the schools who were awarded a School Breakfast Expansion grant!

To learn more about school breakfast, see our previous posts on school breakfast and visit our School Breakfast page in the JSI Resource Center.

National School Breakfast Week

National School Breakfast Week is here!

There are many benefits of eating a healthy breakfast everyday. Studies have found that:

  • Skipping breakfast and experiencing hunger hinder children’s learning ability
  • School breakfast improves students’ academic performance
  • Eating breakfast at school can improve children’s nutrition and can help to prevent obesity
  • School breakfasts can decrease the risk of food insecurity

Breakfast Sign

National School Breakfast Week is a great way to promote your school breakfast program! Whether your school breakfast model is breakfast in the cafeteria, grab and go, or breakfast in the classroom, here are some events this week sponsored by the Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP) that promote school breakfast:

  • Monday, March 22015 Annual School Breakfast Video Contest launch. Submissions will be accepted from March 2 – April 3, 2015. Congratulations to students at the Landmark School in Beverly, Easthampton High School, and Sharon High School for their winning videos in 2014!
  • Wednesday, March 4, 10:00 – 11:00 am EST: Cafeteria Managers Conference Call. The Child Nutrition Outreach Program will host a conference call, to hear from and talk with five Massachusetts school cafeteria managers who work with different breakfast models.
  • Thursday, March 5: School Breakfast Red Carpet Event- CNOP will celebrate National School Breakfast Week at Medford High School. The event will feature remarks from regional, state, and local officials, and a premiere screening of CNOP’s school breakfast promotional video, “Everything Starts with School Breakfast.”

Let CNOP know why you are serving school breakfast by using the hashtag #schoolbreakfast and tweeting @ChildNutri.

For more on school breakfast, view our previous posts on school breakfast programs and the School Breakfast page in the JSI Resource Center.

Boosting School Breakfast Participation with the Help of Walpole High School Students

Walpole bistro area

Walpole High School students enjoy breakfast in this upscale bistro dining area in the cafeteria.

In an effort to increase school breakfast participation, the director of the school nutrition program for Walpole Public Schools, Maria Hall, tapped into one of her most valuable assets…student input! Hall recognized that including the students in the decision making process gave them ownership and made it more likely for them to participate. Input on menu items and delivery method was solicited from the student council. Using a survey, the teens provided their feedback about specific items as they taste tested a sampling of breakfast foods. Hall also tapped into the teens ideas about ways to make school breakfast environment more appealing.

walpole champion cafe

Walpole High School branded the cafeteria Champion Cafe as a way to promote its school breakfast and lunch programs.

From this input, the dining area was branded the Champion Cafe, and a new bistro area was born – offering the high school students an upscale dining experience within their school. Among the full service breakfast offerings in the Champion Cafe, students enjoy the ever popular omelet bar – started with the help of a chef hired by Hall to infuse more culinary variety into the program. Future plans include expanding the bistro area to offer smoothies, as well as to incorporate a grab-n-go style breakfast where students will have access to a self-serve toaster and waffle maker.

Most recently, Hall has tackled a new endeavor using technology to help market the program. A makeover to the school nutrition web site and a new App, both from Nutrislice, has the potential of putting the school menu information in the hands of everyone in the district. The Nutrislice App provides the school’s breakfast and lunch menus conveniently to smart phone users and the school’s website provides nutritionals for each menu item as well as allergen information, and much more.

Walpole schools menu2Thinking about expanding your school breakfast program, visit the School Breakfast page on the JSI Resource Center website for links to helpful resources.

Grab-n-Go Breakfast a Success at Fitchburg Middle School

Fitchburg Breakfast Cart_Edited

Students at Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, MA grab breakfast on their way to class at kiosks located in various locations.

The director of the school nutrition program for Fitchburg Public Schools, Jill Lucius, is using innovative strategies tailored toward the needs of the students to serve a healthy breakfast at Memorial Middle School. With little time in the morning, and the students preference to socialize with their peers rather than coming to school early for a hot breakfast, the option of a grab-n-go breakfast was the best fit.

keypad

Students enter their 4 digit number into the wireless keypad simplifying the payment process for delivering breakfast.

Breakfast is now served via kiosks strategically positioned in high traffic areas in the hallway. The carts house all the essentials for a reimbursable meal including prepacked items, such as whole grain cereal, which speeds up the process. Students can also select milk and a piece of fruit. Using a wireless keypad for students to enter their four-digit PIN number also reduces wait time for students. On the launch day of the program, food-service staff were able to serve 400 students in 20 minutes.

Lucius used several steps to promote the school breakfast program including:

  • memo to teachers prior to the launch day informing them of the change and the importance of breakfast to encourage their students to take advantage of it.
  • Met with the Student Advisory Group to get their input for the kick off event.
  • Applied for a grant from Fuel Up to Play and received posters and milk coolers for the carts.

Lucius invited local luminaries including representatives from Fun’N’ Fitchburg, staff from Project Bread, and state Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg to the kick off event. And, the Telegram highlighted the school breakfast program earlier this school year.

The district also celebrated National School Breakfast Week in March to promote their breakfast program. Schools served breakfast for lunch, which is always a huge hit with students, according to Lucius. Students who purchased a breakfast were also automatically entered in for a chance to win prizes donated by various companies including a laptop. In addition, foodservice staff wore T-shirts to promote National School Breakfast Week.

For more ideas on how to market your School Breakfast Program, visit the School Breakfast page on the JSI Resource Center website.

A Team Approach to Promoting School Breakfast in Cambridge

Marie Hercule, a school nutrition staff member at Morse Elementary School in Cambridge, MA, stands behind the fruit display she arranges for the School Breakfast Program.

Marie Hercule, a school nutrition staff member at Morse Elementary School in Cambridge, MA, stands behind the fruit display she arranges for the School Breakfast Program.

The Morse Elementary School in Cambridge is using a simple, but effective method to market its school breakfast program – TEAMWORK!  School nutrition staff, students and the principal all play a part in the promoting this school breakfast program.

When students arrive for breakfast they are enticed by visually appealing displays of delicious seasonal fresh fruit. It is the passion of Marie Hercule, a school nutrition staff member, who arranges fruit every morning for breakfast. The bright and contrasting colors of the fruit make breakfast more appealing to the students. Easy accessibility is also in action here…with a fruit display placed next to the register where students can easily grab a piece of fruit to round out their reimbursable meal. This simple and effective step is one of the popular strategies promoted by the Smarter Lunchroom Movement.

The Cambridge Public School district offers a hot breakfast item everyday as well as fruit, cold cereal, muffin, juice and milk. Students taste test menu items to assure their likes and dislikes are factored into the breakfast offerings. A favorite at breakfast is the hot oatmeal – the secret ingredient, apple cider, makes it one of the most popular items.

Cambridge Postcard

Postcard promoting school breakfast from the principal at the Morse Elementary School.

Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day!
Students and their families were reminded of this popular message when they received a postcard from their school principal, a strong supporter of school breakfast. The postcard was mailed to parents at the beginning of the school year to reinforce the importance of breakfast as well as provide information on how to participate in the breakfast program. It served as an important reminder to parents about the learning connection between a well-nourished child and academic success. Parents were also invited to join their child for breakfast at school. The Cambridge Public School District provides families and students with school breakfast and lunch menus on their web page, along with other helpful food and nutrition resources.

For more information about marketing school breakfast, visit the School Breakfast page on the JSI Resource Center for additional resources, including innovative ways to promote your school breakfast program.