A Guide to Taste Testing Local Foods in Schools
Encouraging children to enjoy nutritious foods from an early age is a vital step to a lifetime of making healthy choices. Working within school food systems is a great place to start. All across the country a revolution in child nutrition is taking place. Schools are launching efforts to seek out, prepare, and serve more nutritious food. In growing numbers, they are establishing Farm to School Programs to boost student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, purchase products grown by local farmers, and connect schools to the farmers in their communities. It is no accident that our nation’s First Lady has picked up this standard: supporting children in making healthier food choices through access to fresh local foods and community gardens. But with all these changes, come challenges.
Persuading youth to eat nutritious food is not always an easy task, especially when you consider the money that food companies spend to advertise less-than-healthy food products, or when you observe the items on restaurant kids’ menus—pizza, chicken fingers, and french fries. How can a fresh local carrot, hearty chili, or fresh fruit compete? Well, they can compete—with a little help. Although children are influenced by the media and drawn to familiar fare, they like fresh fruits and vegetables, too. And it may surprise some parents to know that children like vegetables raw, sautéed, steamed and roasted.
Most school food service personnel know, however, that if they introduce a radically new dish or food item, it will end up in the compost or trash. So how do schools encourage students to try new foods on the menu? That’s where taste testing comes in. Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) has found that by connecting the three C’s (Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community), taste testing can help students change their food choices. If students learn where the food comes from, how it is grown, have hands-on experiences with it, and use their senses to understand it, they are more likely to taste and accept it.
This guide will give you the tools and resources to help implement a taste testing program in your school in order to:
• Broaden student experiences with a variety of foods
• Introduce foods that are locally grown and available
• Integrate into school meals new, local foods that students will accept
• Involve students and staff in school food change
In this guide is a small sampling of school taste test case studies that represent what is happening all over Vermont to introduce new flavors in the cafeteria and classroom. These schools have created healthier food environments by encouraging children to try new and different foods, many of which are grown and produced locally. Your school can do it, too!