Lunchroom Education

Rainbow Days

A Rainbow Day is a great way to get your students acclimated to the salad bar in your cafeteria. It also introduces the concept of eating a plate full of colorful fruits and vegetables.

On Rainbow Day, students are asked to use fruits and vegetables from the salad bar to create a “rainbow” of at least three colors on their tray. Once they have finished eating their creations, they’ll receive a sticker or other small reward.

We recommend obtaining financial sponsorship so that a free salad can be offered to every student. This is a foundation exercise that will produce long-term impact. Possible sponsors could include local businesses and existing vendors, or you could even pursue a grant, such as the CAF’s Project Produce grant, for the event.

Key Benefits

  • Nutrition: Introduces the concept of “eating the rainbow.” The simple practice of selecting different colors of fruits and vegetables for their plates enriches the students’ nutrition in a fun and accessible way. The event also helps students gain the confidence to seek out and try new foods. It also teaches them to “take what you can eat, and eat what you take” which is not only a good habit it will also help reduce cafeteria waste.
  • Etiquette: Teaches students how to use a salad bar, including utensil use and management of the tray and serving boat or plate, and raises their awareness of the possibility of spills and cross-contamination.
  • Participation: When marketed in advance, a Rainbow Day event will increase meal participation.
  • School and Parent Engagement: This activity is designed to bring food services, school administrators, teachers, and parents together in the dining room to participate in an activity that not only has a direct impact on children’s health, but also showcases food services.
  • Teacher Engagement: A Rainbow Day can be an opportunity for a food service focused event to link with classroom education. We’ve seen all kinds of examples, including musical compositions created or performed to accompany the event, language-arts projects like rainbow poetry, classes of students dressed in rainbow colors and costumes and artwork connecting fruits and vegetables to the rainbow theme.
  • Administrative and Parent Volunteer Engagement: Food services staff members may be the unsung heroes of your school. Creating a Rainbow Day gives administrators and parent volunteers a chance to work together with food services staff. It also involves them in an educational activity in the cafeteria, a location rarely identified as a learning environment.
  • Community Sponsorship: This activity creates the opportunity for community sponsorship, which will allow the entire student population to participate, no matter whether they are participating in the reimbursable meal program or bringing lunch from home. Sponsorship can cover the additional costs of providing a free side salad to every child. Making the event inclusive increases the potential long-term impact of a Rainbow Day through encouraging future reimbursable meal participation from children who routinely pack a lunch from home.

Documents & Resources

  • Rainbow Days Planning How-To Guide: This guide covers every aspect of planning—from communication to event-day tasks.
  • Rainbow Days Guide (PDF): This downloadable copy includes all the information offered in the Rainbow Days section of the website.
  • Rainbow Days Letter to Administration: You’ll want to get permission to host your event in the cafeteria during lunch. While you’re at it, ask for support in marketing your tastings to the school community.
  • Rainbow Days Volunteer Outreach Letter: Distribute this letter through your PTA/PTO to enlist volunteers and to promote your event.
  • Sample Volunteer Guide: This guide sets the standard for your school food program by outlining responsibilities and expectations for your volunteers.
  • Rainbow Days Event Flyer: Add your event information to this printable flyer and hang it throughout your school and cafeteria leading up to the event.
  • Rainbow Days Ingredients List: Use this list (translated into Spanish) to help plan a colorful variety of fruits and veggies for kids to choose from when making their "rainbows" at the salad bar. 
  • I Made a Rainbow Sticker: Have stickers created using this "I Made a Rainbow" design. Give stickers to students as a reward for eating their full salad.


Transitioning school food programs to scratched-cooked meals from menus that feature highly processed foods has many challenges. One of the biggest tasks is getting kids to warm up to the new food offerings. But don’t get discouraged. It just takes a little know-how and an understanding that kids’ palates have been trained up until now to desire salt, sugar, and fat. Since most kids in your cafeteria will need a nudge when trying unfamiliar menu items, why not make it fun?

According to the National Association for the Education for Young Child, a child must be offered a new food up to 10-15 times before they will eat it. With that information in hand, we have found that tasting, tasting and more tasting is a great method for overcoming their resistance.

Types of Tastings

Fresh Produce Tasting

Kids need a connection to real food. Tasting fresh, raw produce is a great way for kids to experience food in its unprocessed state. Here are some ways to engage students in a fresh produce tasting:

  • Do side-by-side taste comparisons of different varieties of produce (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, and greens).
  • Engage their senses when evaluating the produce. Ask students to touch, taste, smell, and visually describe the item both in its whole form and sliced. What differences do they see?
  • Coordinate tastings in conjunction with a Harvest of the Month program (see Art Contests for description).
  • Invite a local farmer to the event and ask them to bring a case of one of their crops such as ripe peaches or freshly picked cherry tomatoes. Highlight the importance of local and sustainable farming by making your farmer a hero.

Menu Item Tasting 

Participation is incredibly important to any school lunch program, but sometimes kids are afraid or hesitant to try the school lunch. This is where a little positive push in the right direction can help. Here are some ways to engage students in a menu item tasting:

  • Plan a menu item tasting the day before the item is being served so you can encourage kids to buy school lunch the next day.
  • Bump up your orders for the next day to ensure that you have enough food to serve existing and new school lunch participants.

Recipe Development

Is your kitchen developing new recipes for the upcoming school year? Testing these new menu items during this process can be incredibly helpful to gauge how the recipes will be received. Here are some ways to engage students in a recipe development tasting:

  • Get their opinions. Ask what they like, don’t like, and would change. Your students will remember their role in the development when they see the item on the menu.
  • Kids have their own vocabulary—make the tasting fun with a recipe-naming contest.

Documents and Resources

Take advantage of the following resources and documents when planning your own tastings. You can tailor them to meet your event specifications.

Chef Demos

The smells, sounds, and visual appeal of cooking can make your cafeteria come alive. Chef demos offer an interactive experience that is appropriate for all age groups. It is an especially useful tool for engaging secondary students in school lunch participation.

Similar to Tastings, chef demos give students the opportunity to try new foods with the added advantage of watching the cooking process. Since kids often perceive school lunch as not fresh, tasteless, or lack luster, a demo can help change their perceptions and provide students with a positive view of what it takes to make a school lunch.

Types of Chef Demos

Menu Item Demo

Participation is important to school lunch programs, and convincing kids to try a school lunch does require some encouragement. Offering live cooking demos of your existing menu items will attract interest and garner the participation results your program needs. Here are ways to engage students in the demo:

  • Plan a menu item demo the day before the item is being served so you can encourage the kids to buy school lunch the next day.
  • Bump up your orders for the next day to ensure you have enough food to serve existing and new school lunch participants.

Local Produce Demo

Transforming fresh, local produce into a tasty recipe before kids’ eyes is always a win-win. This creates an opportunity to educate students on seasonality and the importance of purchasing local foods. Here are ways to engage students in the demo:

  • Engage their senses when cooking. Ask students to touch, taste, smell, and visually describe the item whole vs. sliced fresh vs. cooked. What differences do they see?
  • Coordinate the demo in conjunction with a Harvest of the Month program (see Art Contests for description).
  • Invite a local chef to perform the demo. You can also invite the local farmer who grew the ingredient(s) to be there. Make sure that the guest chef highlights the importance of community, buying locally, and cooking from scratch. If you have a farmer accompany your guest chef, he/she can talk about the importance of sustainable farming.

Documents and Resources

Take advantage of the following resources and documents when planning your own chef demos. You can tailor them to meet your event specifications.

Art Contests

Connecting your school food program to the classroom increases food literacy among students. Though curriculum change is challenging, many teachers will respond to activities that they can easily incorporate into existing lessons. Art contests are an especially easy way to work with teachers (art teachers in particular if the district has them). When planning an art contest, we recommend incorporating a theme such as Harvest of the Month.

What is Harvest of the Month?

Harvest of the Month is an ongoing event that encourages students to become engaged in the importance of local food including its seasonality and sustainability. Each month, the district features a different fruit or vegetable that reflects the growing season in your state. Understanding our agricultural footprint is vital to the future of our kids’ health and our planet.

Start your Harvest of the Month planning by designating a featured fruit or vegetable for every month of the school year. We suggest incorporating these foods into your monthly menu so that kids can experience the produce in a real meal situation. Take advantage of our Recipes section as well as our Harvest of the Month collector cards, posters. and sticker to help with your program.

Types of Art Contests

Calendar Art Contest

Enhance your menu calendar with original student artwork. You can adapt our guidelines to any theme you’d like, but we encourage a Harvest of the Month campaign to instill the values of local, seasonality, and sustainability.

Here are examples from Boulder Valley School District of menu calendars for both primary and secondary schools. You can work with a graphic designer or print shop to develop your own menu calendar template.

Poster Art Contest

Add one-of-a-kind artwork to your cafeteria walls by engaging your students in a Harvest of the Month poster contest. Display the winning posters in all cafeterias throughout the district.

Documents and Resources

Project Produce Grants

These fruit and veggie grants for schools encourage increased consumption of and exposure to fresh produce.

From the Blog

Food Family Farming Alum-Sunny Young

Sunny Young, Program Director for Good Food for Oxford Schools and founder of Edufood Consulting LLC, a school food reform consulting firm, can honestly say she learned from one of the best in her field. A Food Family Farming alum, Young began her...

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