Décor and Artwork
Food as art intrigues young minds.
Artwork in the cafeteria can communicate positive messages, stimulate appetite and drive a favorable eating experience. Invite the art club to paint a mural on the wall. Develop an idea for a food-themed art series that the art or photography class would enjoy creating and displaying. Avery ISD in northeast Texas encourages students to hop on the fruit train with creatively carved food art (shown in photo). As you decorate your cafeteria, keep these pointers in mind.
Nutrition and Culinary Education Improve Student Acceptance
- Posters, pictures and artwork should be placed at eye level for the students.
- Avoid cluttering tables and walls.
- Set a goal to rotate in new artwork every 3 months in order to keep it fresh and interesting.
Research shows that when new or unusual foods are offered in combination with education materials, children are more likely to taste and enjoy these foods. Culinary skills education provided alongside fruit and vegetable offerings can also increase the likelihood that students will feel confident in the kitchen and take healthy habits home. Magnolia ISD (shown in photo) provided nutrition education and recipe cards during their National School Breakfast Week 2015 celebration. Nutrition information featuring the health benefits of cauliflower was presented alongside cauliflower burritos that were developed as part of the Local Products Challenge. Recipe cards complimented strawberry and oatmeal smoothie samples, allowing students who enjoyed this offering to prepare it at home as well.
Share New Fruits and Vegetables with Sample Trays
Offering samples is a great way to introduce students to new or unusual foods. One small sample size portion is much less intimidating than an entire serving of an unfamiliar food. In addition, children respond favorably to repeat exposures of new foods and are more likely to consume school meals if they’re familiar with the foods being offered. Sample trays can also add a splash of color and excitement to your cafeteria. Comal ISD Chef Mario Perez enjoys interacting with students one-on-one and sharing new fruits and vegetables that students perhaps have never seen or eaten, such as cooked eggplant or the inside of a fig (shown in photo). To further enhance your sample tray, consider including the fruit or vegetable in its whole form so the children can identify what they are eating and even find it in the grocery store. Highlight information about food samples on the monthly menu in order to provide an educational component and encourage students to look forward to sampling days.
Showcase Your School Meal Successes
National School Lunch Week is an excellent opportunity to spotlight the cornucopia of food items prepared and offered by your school food service department. Pictures of beautifully constructed lunch trays create interest in healthy school meal offerings. Whether you’re snapping a quick shot with a smartphone or using an advanced digital camera, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Lighting – take pictures either in natural light, with adequate indoor lighting or with a flash; avoid shadows or dimly lit locations that can dull the appearance of food
- Background – white backdrops and additional props (such as silverware) can enhance the quality of a food photo
- Angle – take the picture from close to the plate level or slightly above it; avoid looking down on the plate from directly above
- Mind the time – food may begin to melt, wilt, collapse or change color as time progresses, so be prepared to take pictures soon after the food has been cooked.
UPDATE: The Snap That! CNP Food Photography class hosted by the Region 13 ESC and led by Tracey Maurer was a success! They have generously shared the following resources from that class:
A Tips and Techniques one-page handout
Participant Images taken during the class
Menu Module food photography basics
As you usher in a new school year, catch the attention of new and returning students with attractive menus that feature new menu items, as well as popular favorites. Add splashes of vibrant color into your menu design. Use different shapes to capture unique pieces of information, such as nutrition education nuggets or monthly food item features. Include student artwork or quotes about how much they are enjoying the school meals. The Texas Department of Agriculture creates colorful and clean monthly menu templates that schools can use to communicate food item offerings, as well as fun facts, nutrition information and special announcements.
Visit SquareMeals for newly released monthly templates!
Invite students in your district to explore the Child Nutrition department by offering a “tour” of their school’s kitchen. Students are naturally curious about what goes on behind-the-scenes and kitchen tours help familiarize them with how the cafeteria prepares their meals. The Clear Creek ISD Child Nutrition Program created the mascot “Scoop” to increase the students’ interest in healthy meal choices (shown in photo above). Younger students identify with “Scoop” and enjoy seeing him on cafeteria signage, as well as taking their picture with him during cafeteria tours. Clear Creek ISD offers the following tips for successful kitchen tours:
- Customize information to age of students
- Schedule tour during school hours as part of a class experience
- Use school’s staff so students relate to person giving the tour
A Global Appeal
With the continued growth in popularity of ethnic cuisines, incorporating those flavors into the dishes prepared and served in school kitchens can be a key to continued growth, success and appeal for students. For example, Culinary Trainer at Allen ISD Chef John Lara and his staff prepare a delicious and visually appealing Yum Yum Noodle Bar at Allen High School (shown in photo above). The noodle bar uses whole wheat soba noodles, a variety of vegetables and a choice of protein topped with vegetarian or chicken miso broth. Ethnic inspired flavors and ingredients provide students with a great opportunity to try new and exciting flavors.
Crazy for Kale Chips
Smithville Elementary students are crazy for kale chips. Members of the Smithville Elementary Junior Harvesters introduced kale chips, grown in their school’s vegetable garden, to fellow classmates at a Spring Tasting event. The kale chips were so popular that kale is now a part of the school lunch menu. They also plan to introduce Swiss chard from the garden! This is a great example of how sampling can promote the acceptance of new or less popular food items.