As a father of two boys and a school foodservice consultant, I believe in and support the National School Lunch Program. However, I’ve recently seen some articles and TV news stories questioning the merits of the new school lunch program regulations. Some students are complaining about the portions, are choosing not to eat in the cafeterias and are making videos saying that they need change.
I believe there is a deeper issue at work, and a relatively easy way to find a happy resolution to this challenge. The answer involves taste-testing and conducting focus groups with students. The absence of student feedback is the primary reason so many fruits and vegetables are being tossed in school cafeteria garbage cans. And this can be easily resolved.
For example if you put canned chicken on the menu for about 29 cents per serving and you can choose instead to offer Orange Chicken for 39 cents, the increased participation would cover the higher cost and result in a win-win outcome!
So how do we know what to offer, substitute and avoid? That insight should come from ongoing customer feedback. We can’t continue slapping items on the menu because we perceive them to be healthier for the kids. Yes, I definitely believe in good nutrition. But we have to give kids nutritious items that they will eat. How do we get that information? Through properly conducted Focus Groups.
Having conducted dozens of focus groups for K-12 children, I’ve learned they will riot if you put certain items on the menu, such as beets. So why fight when we can choose instead to adapt. Using fruits and vegetable in new, more appealing forms can make all the difference. Fresh fruit on a stick (melon, grapes and apple chunks) instead of offering a plain apple has proven to be a popular winner. Through testing we’ve found numerous others!
The new nutrition guidelines can be a positive addition to school cafeterias, but we need to do a better job at communicating the changes to the students in advance. We do not need healthier trash cans. We need healthier kids who enjoy eating at school!
My challenge to you, as leaders in the child nutrition profession, is to reach out to students and ask them what they are looking for. And, at the same time, introduce them to new menu items. After you identify the foods they do like, create a mass taste-testing. Make up samples of the new product and hand them out. Here are two tips for ensuring the success of this strategy:
- Let other students hand out the samples. Students are more likely to accept new items from their friends and other peers.
- When you are doing a sampling, schedule it at least two days before you menu the item – definitely not the same day.
Our First Lady Michelle Obama has provided the much-needed incentive to boost the health value of meals served at school. We have the White House, the assistant White House Chef and Lets Move executive director Sam Kass behind us. That’s powerful support! Let’s keep this momentum going, take the bull by the horns and feed more kids. But let’s be smart about it – and learn from the kids, in advance, about what’s going to work!
I welcome your questions and feedback. So let’s get talking! Please leave a comment below, call me at 888 994-3476 or email at kern@localhost
Kern Halls, Chief Innovator of Ingenious Culinary Concepts, turns empty dining halls into gold mines of student activity! By seeking out and combining just the right “ingredients” to accomplish what many call impossible: Halls gets students to “want” to dine in your cafeterias!
For his FREE report, outlining Marketing Tips to help you generate additional revenue TODAY, a $197 value, please click here!