A Recipe for Success

USDA Poster for Healthy School Meals

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Washington DC, I’ve been thinking about reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, and the wild ride that ensued after we embarked with the changes set forth by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

I’m often asked about why following these guidelines has been successful in our district, while other districts have struggled. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts regarding our “formula” for success. I have boiled down my thoughts into what I call the 5 C’s:

1. Culture: It is really necessary to pay attention to the culture of the area, the culture of your schools, current market trends & market demographics.   What I mean by this is… know your market.  For some districts in the south, finding whole grain grits was a major issue.  Our northern students wouldn’t know what to do if we served them grits, not being familiar with that particular food item.  We faced other challenges, including procurement: finding acceptable whole grain tortillas for wraps, consistent availability of all whole grain items from our distributers, etc.    But, paying attention to the culture means knowing what the kids in your geographical area like to eat & are used to eating, and finding ways to offer similar fare within your own eating establishment and within the USDA guidelines  By giving your customers what they want AND following the guidelines, you will achieve success.  

2. Collaborate: Collaboration is key to the success – Collaboration with administration, parents, staff and students. Building bridges with families, and gaining support from district administrators fosters a culture that welcomes the positive results that change brings.

Having the necessary support from your district’s administrators is essential, but even more important is building bridges and getting “buy in” from the customers – students and parents.  Our district’s after school “cooking club” is a wonderful way to foster the relationship between the school nutrition program and families.  Families get to meet school nutrition personnel, taste actual recipes that are being made and served in the cafeteria.  Taste testing and/or cooking in the classroom with students is also a great way to introduce students to new foods, new recipes and menu items.  Allowing the students the opportunity to name the recipe takes this collaboration one step further.

happy students at “cooking club” sampling
healthy banana chocolate chip cookies

3. Creativity: Creativity helps to keep the changes fresh and new, allowing our customers to stay interested & engaged. Adding creative touches to menus, cafeteria environment and by featuring theme menus, market trends and other innovations creates excitement and generates increased meal participation.

In our district, monthly “Fun Friday Breakfasts” have had a positive impact on breakfast participation at our elementary schools.  We have seen a sustained 30% growth in our breakfast average daily participation by hosting a once a month themed breakfast.  Popular themes include sports themes (think: Super Bowl) and “Frozen” theme, featuring “Olaf” string cheese and hot cocoa muffins.  We have even had an “Angry Bird” Fun Friday Breakfast and a “Fruit Ninja” themed breakfast.  Keep it fun – they will keep coming 🙂

Wear your “Angry Bird” gear to the
“Angry Bird” Fun Friday Breakfast!

Need ideas to boost your school nutrition program’s creativity level?  One good place to start is by following School Meals that Rock on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & of course on Pinterest.  There, you will find inspiration from school breakfast and lunch programs from all around the country. Here are a couple of great links to follow:


4. Communication: We have found that communicating has been essential throughout the change process. Communication = Marketing, and through marketing we have kept our customers & their families informed. Marketing can be done on menus, emails, newsletters, websites, and via social media sites. Families want to know how hard we are striving to provide healthy, nutritious meals.

Social media has become a powerful tool for us.   Offering  photographic documentation of our menu items and events lends credibility.  Growing fresh produce in your school garden?  Post a photo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Snapchat.  Are students excited about school meals? Post a photo (make sure you have the proper release, of course) of happy students enjoying their school meals. Families want to know & trust that their kids are being fed delicious, healthy meals.

5. Constantly Changing: We are constantly changing and always adapting – as we tweak recipes, adjust menus, re-organizing work strategies and procure new product. It is a lot of work, but extremely rewarding – when you receive a simple ‪#‎Valentine‬ from a student or a note from a parent thanking you for introducing a child to many new foods… it makes all of the work absolutely worth it.

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