For school operators looking to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into student meals, their peers presenting at United Fresh Produce’s FreshStart Conference had some ideas. Here are a few suggestions shared at the event, held this month in Tucson, Ariz.
1. Consider an array of colors
Offering students a variety of fresh, colorful produce can increase fruit and veggie consumption as well as lunch participation, says Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance. When Wilson was starting out as the foodservice director of a district in rural Wisconsin, she required schools to have three colors of fresh fruits and three colors of fresh vegetables on the serving line.
“That's the only thing we did the first year, and it put the high school participation rate to 72%," Wilson says. “That's the only change. The food was all the same, with the same facilities and the same employees.”
2. Get kids cooking
Students at Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, Va., get to work with produce firsthand as part of nutrition education activities, Marketing and Community OutreachCoordinatorStefanie Dove says. Students working with sweet potatoes, for example, used different kitchen equipment such as a spiralizer to prepare the vegetable four ways. Afterwards, the kids got to eat their creations.
4. Get on students’ level
When Loudoun County first began its monthly “Taste It Thursdays,” staff focused on encouraging students to try lesser-known produce such as tri-colored cauliflower.
But they soon realized that many students may not even be familiar with more common produce. “I was in a classroom during a nutrition education activity, and we were talking about strawberries,” Dove says. “And I asked students in this class—and this was probably a school that was 1% [free and reduced-price lunch], so very affluent—and out of a class of 22, only five kids had ever tried a strawberry.”
Afterwards, the team incorporated produce more commonly found in American grocery stores, such as grapefruit and kale, into the monthly tastings.
5. Blending beyond smoothies
Smoothie bikes have become a popular option for schools looking to educate and engage students around eating healthy. Dove says that in addition to smoothies, Loudoun County has used the bikes to make pesto, salsa, soup and more.