Meal Presentation
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Meal Appeal University
Quitman ISD presents a variety of colors and shapes

Quitman ISD Kitchen Managers immediately began to improve the look and taste of their school meals after attending the Meal Appeal University (MAU) hosted by Region 8 Education Service Center. A few examples of creative techniques they have already used to promote and encourage healthy selections include:

Quitman ISD Oranges and Strawberries
  • Garnishing peeled, whole clementines with quartered strawberries (see photo)
  • Offering fruit cups with a variety of shapes and colors: green grapes, purple grapes and green kiwi squares
  • Building salads in the shape of a face – a bed of lettuce topped with cucumbers for eyes, a baby carrot for the nose, cherry tomatoes lined up in a smile, and broccoli florets for tufts of hair 
  • Layering fruit cups with peaches on bottom, topped with pineapple slices and garnished with a green or purple grape in the middle
  • Serving chicken sandwiches on red checkered serving tray liners

Meal Appeal University
Pittsburg ISD uses knife skills to prepare beautiful salads

Beautiful Salads from Pittsburg ISDPittsburg ISD has been preparing salads all year, yet Primary students didn’t have much of an interest. The look of the salads began to change (see photo) after two Primary Cafeteria staff attended the Meal Appeal University (MAU) at the Region 8 Education Service Center, and so are student attitudes about this healthy offering. More students now choose this menu item and Pittsburg ISD will continue to serve salads that communicate freshness and variety. MAU chefs teach knife skills and simple, low to no-cost preparation and plating techniques that transform the look and taste of meals. Pittsburg ISD Child Nutrition Director Karyn Buckner says “It was not hard to do and there is not much cost difference because most of the things you are already purchasing. It’s just in how you display the meals.” She goes on to say “In speaking with my staff and others who attended MAU, every single person said that this was one of the best workshops they have attended.” More MAU information to come on this website; stay tuned!

Meal Appeal University
School Nutrition professionals create meals that look and taste great.

The inaugural Meal Appeal University was recently hosted by Region 16’s Education Service Center (ESC) in Amarillo on December 15th & 16th, 2015. At this hands-on workshop, school nutrition professionals learned knife and cooking skills, how to present visually attractive meals, tools to engage students customers and improve customer service, and culinary marketing using technology. Salad shakers (shown in photo) were among the creative ways to package salads so all the colorful ingredients are visible to students. Four more Meal Appeal Universities are planned for the first part of 2016 in McAllen (Region 1 ESC), Mount Pleasant (Region 8 ESC), San Antonio (Region 20 ESC) and Midland (Region 18 ESC). Contact the regional ESC for more details.

The Name Game
Creative naming encourages healthy selections.

Yellow WatermelonCatchy names can create interest in healthy entrees, vegetables and fruit. Label foods with age-appropriate cool or descriptive names and place these names on printed or written materials near the item. Younger children respond to fun, creative names such as “Iron Man Spinach” and “Cool as Cucumbers,” while older students respond to descriptive, taste-enhancing words such as fresh, rich and hearty. Studies find that naming vegetables and displaying the names near the menu item can increase selection by as much as 70 percent! Coppell ISD Culinary Trainer Helen Duran debuted yellow watermelon along with promotional stickers that identified the unfamiliar item and encouraged students to try it (shown in photo). 

Delicious DisplaysMeal on Display
Attractive display trays showcase menu offerings.

A pre-plated example of the meal offering is a great way to attractively communicate the appeal of a reimbursable meal. Display plates and trays should be positioned at the beginning of the serving line, at eye level for the students and in a well-lit area to enhance visibility. Comal ISD showcases their Viva Fiesta entrée of the day on the Sizzle line (shown in photo). The pop of colors and restaurant-quality of the plate communicate a high quality meal that the kitchen is proud to serve to the students.

Visual Appeal is Important to Children
Pittsburg ISD (shown in photo) Pittsburg Dolphinshas used creative touches to influence student selection. These banana dolphins present fruit in a unique and visually appealing manner, prompting interest in menu item offerings. Individual observations have noted, and studies support, that the quality and variety of fruits and vegetables served impact student consumption. Engaging students with fun and colorful age-appropriate meal presentations is just one of many ways to enhance the perceived quality of fruit and vegetable offerings, thus leading to improved consumption and reduced waste!

Sniffing Out a Great Meal
Nothing gets the mouthwatering and stomach rumbling quite like a delicious smell! When foods prepared in your cafeteria emit appetizing aromas, students will be compelled to come and investigate. Around 30 minutes prior to service, showcase the smell of the aromatic ingredients in that day’s recipes.  This will carry out into the service line and dining area and is likely to increase students’ interest in and acceptance of the meals.
Aromatic Vegetables
  • Italian meals can be paired with the smell of sautéed garlic or onion
  • Mexican style dishes can be paired with the smell of cumin seeds or dry red pepper flakes that have been toasted on the stovetop
  • Try complementing the main entrée with dried herbs such as dried thyme and rosemary that have been toasted on the stovetop

NEISD staffVerbal Prompts

Food servers and cashiers can engage with students and encourage them to try a variety of menu items. Prompt students to select fruits and vegetables by using fun names or descriptive words. “Would you like to try some X-ray vision carrots?” “Can I offer you mushrooms grown right here in Texas?” Dress up or wear the same color shirts one day in order to make students curious and ask questions. Remind students that they get a free fruit and vegetable with their meal. These are all ways to engage and encourage students to try a variety of offerings. Click here to learn how North East ISD guest servers celebrated NSLW 2013 (shown in photo above).

Star FruitSpotlight Fruit
Put fruit in the spotlight! Grab students’ attention by cutting fruit into fun or visually appealing shapes. Place fruit in visible areas, such as the beginning of the line or at the point of sale. Elevate fruit on a tiered stand in order to increase visibility and convenience. Place whole fruit in an attractive bowl, such as a wooden or straw basket. If you only have access to a metal pan or bowl, line it with colorful cloth or paper napkins. These low cost to no cost improvements can increase the likelihood that fruits will be noticed and eaten. Click here to learn how Harlingen CISD put Texas star fruit and citrus in the spotlight during NSLW 2013 (shown in photo above).

Quitman ISD Oranges and Strawberries

Additional Meal Presentation Resources  Minimize 

TDA Seal

Success Stories
  • A showcase of best practices being implemented in schools throughout the state of Texas
  • Ideas on how to improve the visual appeal and consumption of your schools meals

Smarter Lunchrooms Movement logo

Smarter Lunchrooms 
  • Best Practices to create cafeteria environments that guide students toward healthful food choices
  • Access to informational videos, training materials and resources handbooks.


School Nutrition Association logo

School Nutrition Association
  • Increase participation with new looks and a range of tasty and appealing choices
  • Stay on the cutting edge of preparing and serving delicious and nutritious meals
  • Sign-up for SNA SmartBriefs and receive daily e-mails with ideas on how to improve school meals


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The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) lists these resources and providers as a service to school nutrition professionals.
This list does not constitute an endorsement or verification of accuracy on the part of TDA.

Assistance available in English and Spanish. Please call 877-TEX-MEAL (877-839-6325) for help.

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