Planning meals for child nutrition programs is not easy. You have to take into consideration federal nutrient requirements, food budget, kitchen equipment, and available staff. Plus, you have to use foods that appeal to children!
Many children do not get exposed to everyday foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in their homes. Children are reluctant to try new foods, so parents offer what they know the child will eat. The same thing happens in school cafeterias. Children tend to select foods that they know and like from the cafeteria. Therefore, adding new and healthier foods to your school’s menu is challenging. One strategy is to hold regular taste tests. Taste tests expose students to new foods as well as allows them to provide input on school meals. If children like the foods they tried in the taste test, they will be more likely to participate in your school’s nutrition program. Here are some best practices for taste tests:
New Menu Items
Hold taste tests to feature new menu items in the cafeteria during meal time. Put samples in small cups as anything larger might be too overwhelming. The children can pick up the samples while they are getting their lunch. Another option is to pass out samples when the children are seated. Give them a sticker or other token if they try the new food.
If you want the children’s input on a new item, set up a tasting station in the cafeteria. For young children, have them rate the new food as thumbs up or thumbs down. (Don’t forget to keep a tally!) For older students, you can give them an evaluation form to complete. After the taste test is over, let the kids know the results of their opinions!
Taste tests are a great way to get students to try nutritious foods in conjunction with a nutrition unit in the classroom. Focus on a food group or attribute during the taste test, such as whole grains, green foods, or foods high in vitamin A. If feasible, allow the students to smell and feel the foods in their raw form and help prepare the samples. Discuss the nutrients in each of the foods and how they are essential in good health.
School events, like back-to-school registration, open house, or parent-teacher conferences are a great time to showcase your nutrition program. Set up a tasting station for parents with items from your school menu. Use this time to explain free and reduced meals if you participate in National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program.
Farm-to-School or School Garden
Invite local farmers to present locally grown fruits and vegetables while they are in season. (Or if you have a school garden, have students involved with the garden host the taste test.) The tasting station should show what the food looks like when harvested and provide samples of the food for the student to try. Give them recipes to take home.
Acceptance of new food items improves when children can sample food in the school environment. Performing taste tests throughout the school year will help you update your menus with foods you know are kid-tested and approved. Taste tests also reinforce nutrition education by allowing children to try nutritious foods that they usually don’t get to eat.
At GA Foods, we encourage customers to conduct a taste test using our meals. Contact us to set up a free taste test at your school: