Promoting healthier choices in school meals is an admirable goal, one that many schools balance against pleasing often-finicky kids. Offering them foods are not just wholesome but craveable is one way to win them over and tip the scale toward better eating habits.
School nutrition programs have found a variety of methods for raising consumption of more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other nutrient-dense foods. Here’s a few tips on getting kids interested in healthier items.
Letting older students create their own meals at salad bars, build-your-own savory bowl stations and smoothie bowl bars with wholesome ingredients, like pineapple juice, strawberries and mango puree, is another way to pique interest in nutrient-dense foods. The visual cues alone of a colorful, appetizing, well-stocked station promote better choices, and the ability to customize a dish “just for me” is a compelling reason to choose these options.
Suggesting complementary combinations of ingredients complete with a nutritional breakdown can encourage skeptics to give these alternatives a try. For instance, offer the ingredients to make a delicious smoothie bowl and on the display, post recipes for tasty combinations, like this blender-less smoothie bowl:
- ½ cup non-fat yogurt
- ¼ cup DOLE® Chef-Ready Mango Frozen Purée
- ¼ cup canned DOLE crushed Pineapple in 100% Pineapple Juice
- ¼ cup granola
- ¼ cup DOLE Chef-Ready Cuts Diced Strawberries
- Add yogurt, crushed pineapple and mango purée into serving bowl.
- Stir until ingredients are incorporated.
- Top with granola and diced strawberries.
CREDITING: 1 Grain, 1 Fruit, 1 Meat Alternative
Pairing something new with something familiar
Like adults, many younger eaters are creatures of habit. They tend to order dishes they know they like. One tactic that can expand their horizons is to pair a popular, familiar item with something new that has a healthier profile. Schools might offer a Hawaiian-style whole wheat pizza, integrating fruit into a classic favorite, or menu a soup and sandwich combo that teams a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup and a fruit cup as a side, delivering a full serving of fruit!
Offering samples and getting feedback
One popular strategy is to offer samplesof recipes that incorporate new ingredients or preparations to win kids over. Project Bread, an initiative to improve the quality of food in low-income Massachusetts school districts, works with a group of chefs to design healthier menus; the chefs revamp menus, train the staff to prepare more nutritious meals and, most importantly, do taste-tests of new items with the students. Explaining the novel menu items and asking kids to give each potential item a thumbs-up or thumbs-down response after sampling helps kids feel empowered and encourages buy-in on the new additions.
Dishes that incorporate healthy options in “sneaky” ways are a tried-and-true tactic to tweak the health profile of school meals. For instance, replacing some of the cheese in a mac and cheese with roasted squash or mixing grated vegetables or pureed or sliced fruits into baked goods can improve the flavor or texture without being intrusive. Pureeing legumes or veggies into soups and sauces is also a great way to improve the nutritional benefits of a dish.
In the end, none of these strategies will succeed if they don’t hit the mark when it comes to taste. Curating an appealing kids menu that promotes healthier dining habits takes creativity, patience and sometimes a little experimenting. But the result is worth the effort.
Dole is offering school nutrition services a 1-pound sample of Chef-Ready Cuts. Choices include peach slivers or cubes, mango cubes, diced or sliced strawberries, sliced bananas and pineapple cubes—click here for more information.
This post is sponsored by Dole Packaged Foods