Grabbing their attention: Strategies for engaging students in the cafeteria
Guest post by Beth Collins, Director of Operations for Chef Ann Foundation
Students in Oxford, Mississippi show off their stickers after trying new food. (Photo courtesy of Chef Ann Foundation)
When I first started cooking professionally, I was living in New York City. My love affair with food centered on the Union Square Market when I shopped for the restaurants where I worked. It was there that I connected the flavors to the farmer. I have carried that local connection with me as I moved from restaurants to schools—bringing local flavor to our school meals is one of the most rewarding aspects of school food change work that the Chef Ann Foundation supports.
If your district is cooking from scratch and using salad bars, the potential for transitioning significant amounts of procurement to local ingredients increases exponentially. Of course, student participation in meal programs is key to this whole process, especially for sustaining local food purchases, so marketing farm to school to the kids provides motivation and interest for them to eat school lunch.
School districts all over the country have their favorite marketing and education techniques to engage students and develop that lifelong passion for local food. I recently queried the The Lunch Box Advisory Board to see what their favorites were and these floated to the top.
Sunny Young is one of the National Farm to School Network state leads in Mississippi and queen of all things farm to school in the Oxford School District. Young led the establishment of Good Food for Oxford Schools, which has been working to improve cafeteria menus, connect kids to food through gardening, and bring farmers to the cafeteria when their food is served on the line. When students try new foods, they are rewarded with a sticker. It’s hard to resist a “tasting” when the person who grew the crop is there and a sticker will follow!
Harvest of the Month (HOTM)
This idea is favored by districts all over the country, and many states have programs to match their region’s growing season and primary production—be it grains, dairy, meats or produce. Montana is piloting a state version this year based on Kalispell Public Schools’ HOTM. Kalispell Nutrition Director Jenny Montague creates posters featuring local foods, menu calendars with farm info and recipes, and includes surveys and classroom education as part of its HOTM program. HOTM is easy for kids to connect and provides a great educational platform for local food tastings with something new and different every month.
Taste Tests, Contests and Community Events
Bertrand Weber, the Director of Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Services as well as an Advisor to the National Farm to School Network, uses a vibrant collection of farm to school marketing and education to inspire kids to try new foods, including taste tests with “new name contests” where students create the best title for a dish. MPS also hosts regular community events like BBQs bringing community partners, farmers, families and nutrition services staff together to celebrate good food. Everything about MPS’s program is featured on the farm to school landing page of their website as well as promoted in social media. MPS is media savvy and is a great model to check out when designing your plan.
Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Services hosts events to bring together community partners, farmers, families and nutrition staff. (Photo courtesy of Chef Ann Foundation)
Miguel Villarreal, Director of Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., and Advisor to the National Farm to School Network, has been a supporter of farm to school for many years. Novato, located in Marin County, is home to many organic farms that partner with Novato Unified to provide great produce. Villarreal features their product throughout his menus and on his salad bars where students have the opportunity to select and taste new foods every day. Villarreal introduced Meatless Mondays into his weekly menu design to promote locally produced vegetables and fruits while educating the students and community about the environmental impact of sustainable farming practices and the humane treatment of farm animals.
There are so many vibrant and effective marketing ideas happening around the country to share. Visit The Lunch Box to find a recipe for your Harvest of the Month product as well as many great How-To’s for marketing farm to school in your district.