Kindergarten students at Hickman Mills C-1 School District, in Kansas City, Mo., are eating more vegetables than ever, thanks to a new program created by Grennan Sims, R.D., dietitian and nutrition education coordinator.
Sims used a $5,000 grant from the state’s Office of Minority Health to enhance an existing classroom program. The program, Color My Tray, has resulted in a 15% increase in vegetable consumption among the kindergarteners at Ingels Elementary School. “We had been participating in the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program for the last couple of years,” Sims explains. “We decided to see if we could enhance that program.”
Under the existing program, tubs of various produce are delivered to classrooms twice a week for students to try, with teachers providing an educational overview of the item. The grant allowed Sims to augment that program at one elementary school as a pilot.
“We thought the Choose MyPlate concept was great and we wanted to take a play on that,” Sims says. “We came up with Color My Tray because we wanted kids to literally color their trays with fruits and vegetables.”
Several changes were made to upgrade the existing program. For example, Sims created a “passport” and told students they were going on a “healthy journey.” An “I Tried It” stamp was made so that teachers could stamp the passport every time a student tried a particular item.
“We also asked kids to color a picture of their school lunch tray at the beginning of the 12 weeks and then to color a picture of their tray at the end of the 12 weeks,” Sims adds. “Our hope was that the pictures would go from browns and yellows to greens and reds and purples and blues, and that is what we saw.” One reason for that was that the department partnered with local chefs to help develop new recipes using the various fruits and vegetables.
To measure the program’s effectiveness, Sims weighed each bin being sent to a classroom and then weighed the collected waste. The difference was the amount of produce consumed. “Over the 12 weeks, vegetable consumption increased by 15%,” she says. “Fruit consumption stayed basically the same, but our kids have always been really good fruit eaters.”
Some diners have to be urged to eat their fruits and vegetables. That’s part of the premise behind Healthy for Life, a new Aramark program designed to create healthier campus environments and support healthier student lifestyles.
“For us, it’s about encouraging and enabling our students to make healthful meal and snack selections,” says Amanda Finch, marketing director at Clemson University, in South Carolina, an Aramark account that helped pilot the program.
Healthy for Life offers customer-engagement resources such as:
CampusDish Nutrition Smartphone App: A free tool that allows smartphone users to easily search and view menus by location, item and nutritional content;
Healthy for Life Wellness Center: An interactive “billboard,” located in each residential dining facility, that serves as a central location for nutrition and wellness information;
Consumer Promotions: Special events highlighting healthy dining and wellness, including the Healthy Bites sampling program, Healthy Chef cooking demonstrations and Wellness Workshops; and
Just4U Nutrition Messaging Program: This menu-labeling system features colorful, easy-to-identify icons to cue students to foods that are low in fat, 500 calories or less, organic, locally grown, low sodium, steamed and more.
At Clemson, merchandising of fresh produce and other healthy options has been an important part of the program. In the three dining halls, fruits and vegetables are displayed farmers’ market style, and apples, bananas and other whole fruits are prominently positioned at every station so students can grab them on the run.
Healthy menu options like premade salads have also been added at stations like the grill, which would typically serve up a burger and fries, and colorful Healthy Highlights signage educates and engages customers with advice like, “Breaking News: Ketchup is not a vegetable. Add a side salad.”
Last fall, Clemson’s dining services department put on a Healthy Tiger Tailgate, to prove to the student body that tailgating doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Options such as veggie burgers, cut fruit with yogurt dips and crudites with hummus were served.
“If I put out a pan of spinach, the only people who will order it are the folks who like spinach,” says Peter Ehlin, food service director at Widener University, in Chester, Penn., another Aramark account that was an early adopter of Healthy for Life. “But if I cook it fresh in a bamboo steamer basket on an induction burner in full view of the customers, and they see and smell the garlic and other seasonings being added and notice the fresh product and the wonderful texture, they will be enticed to try it.” That’s why so much of the prep being done at Widener’s Pride Café is done where students can see it—even the chopping and slicing for the salad bar.
The percentage of school districts that plan to add or expand their breakfast program this school year, according to the School Nutrition Association’s Back to School Trends Report. That number is higher, at 46%, for large school districts (those that serve 25,000 students or more). Those districts that plan to expand their breakfast programs plan to do so through alternative delivery methods. Sixty-nine percent will increase grab-and-go options, 47% plan to increase breakfast in the classroom and 24% say they will increase second chance breakfast.
A strategic plan at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, will turn the campus into a series of residential neighborhoods, which will blend housing and dining services with the academic success goals of the university’s students.
“We’ve developed a strategic plan to create communities that enhance social interaction and will appeal to the kind of students we seek to recruit and retain,” Diane K. Anderson, Ph.D., vice president of student affairs, said in a press release. The organization into neighborhoods is “designed to leverage some $30 million in new campus living and dining facilities invested since 2006 as well as more than $84 million in new investments.”
Judy Gipper, R.D., director of dining services, says the plan divides the campus into four neighborhoods focused on different academic areas. For example, because the South neighborhood is where the university’s fine arts buildings are located, the university has constructed a fine arts living and learning community that includes amenities like studio space for those students. Dining would then work with those students living in that neighborhood to develop a dining concept that would satisfy that community, Gipper says. “We want each neighborhood to eventually have at least one ‘wow’ dining experience.”
What creates that “wow” experience? Gipper says it’s a combination of made-to-order cooking and an environment where the décor, lighting and varied seating makes the students feel comfortable in the space. The goal is for these locations to become destinations on campus. One of these units, Bistro 3, opened in 2010, and the department is currently in the planning stages for a $36 million residence dining hall, which will be built in The Valley neighborhood.
The major challenge the department has encountered in this process is the tremendous amount of planning that goes into a project like this. “We’ve been looking at what the menu trends are going to be, what we can do to run our dining halls more efficiently and how we can improve our campus sustainability,” Gipper says. “For example, one thing we’re looking to implement in terms of menu trends in the new dining hall is an allergy-free zone, where people with special dietary requirements can have food prepared for them. We think that will make us a leader in providing safe meals for those with allergies. [Basically this campus neighborhood concept will allow us] to look for areas where we can be leaders in campus dining.”