Getting student buy-in for new products is important for child nutrition programs. At 18,500-student Allentown School District in Pennsylvania, the child nutrition department has teamed up with an after-school cooking club to conduct taste testings. Pamela Gallagher, director of child nutrition services, talks to FSD about the process and relationship between the two organizations.
How did you get involved with the food club at Trexler Middle School?
The consumer sciences teacher started an after-school club. The middle school kids go through a rotation in the consumer science class and some of the class is about economics in the home, cooking and other things. The cooking rotation of this class is only for a few weeks. What the teachers noticed was that the kids really liked the class when it was in the cooking rotation, so she started an after-school club for cooking. It grew from there because the teacher contacted child nutrition for a career day. She invited us to be a part of her career day and then it evolved to using the kids in this class to be taste testers for new products. This class now does taste testing for new products. They are important to us because when we have new products from a vendor or manufacturer, we test with the kids first before we put it on the menu.
How do you work with the food club do to taste testing of new products?
We normally do the taste testing three or four times a year. The kids come to our kitchen for the testing. It’s very formal. The vendor normally comes and talks to the students about the products. There are forms to fill out that ask about things like texture, taste and how the product looks.
Before the food club, we would do student tasting at a school during lunch and do random tasting but not anything really official.
Besides taste testing, what else do you do with the food club?
We take them on a trip once a year. We usually take them to a vendor. For example, we took them to Giorgio’s Farm in the Reading (Pa.) area. They do mushroom growing and they have a processing plant so the kids got to see the whole processing cycle. Giorgio also makes a pizza for us so we had a relationship from them on this pizza end.
What are some of the products that have been added to the menu after the food club’s approval?
Last year we put Uncle Ben’s Rice on the menu after the kids did taste testing. There was also a hot pocket type product that they liked.
Are you trying to expand the food club and child nutrition services partnership?
We are working with the principals at the other three middle schools to start food clubs. We always do taste testing of new products before they get put on the menu. Sometimes the students in this after-school class are not available so we’ll go to a school and test it with other kids. The students are our most important customers so it keeps us connected to them.