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.
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.
- Tasting Planning How-To Guide: This guide covers every aspect of planning—from communication to event-day tasks.
- Tasting 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.
- Tasting 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.
- Tasting Event Flyer: Add your event information to this printable flyer and hang it throughout your school and cafeteria leading up to the event.
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