Developing a school menu of healthy, student-approved meals is challenging, make no mistake about it. But it is achievable with the right support and resources. That’s why the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) have partnered to create the Team Up for School Nutrition Success (Team Up) initiative.
Team Up provides school nutrition professionals the opportunity to network and learn best practices from their peers. Those who have developed tips and tricks to create delicious school menus, increase participation, practice food safety and manage financially-sound program budgets. And with the help and guidance of peer mentors, Team Up attendees can turn their ideas into goals by creating focused action plans for their district.
USDA followed up with three school nutrition directors who participated in a 2014 Team Up training to check on their progress. Let’s take a look at the goals and strategies these Team Up graduates used in their path to school nutrition success.
Student Feedback Increases Program Participation
Angela Rodriguez, Child Nutrition Director of Currituck County Schools in North Carolina, left the Team Up training with a vision to improve her school nutrition program’s financial health. She achieved this by increasing student participation and decreasing plate waste. Her strategies included taste-testing and incorporated student feedback in menu planning, to ensure their food preferences were reflected in school menus. Breakfast participation increased from 2015 to 2016, despite the free- and reduced-lunch participation rate decreasing in 2015 by 1.8 percent. Thanks to these efforts, more students were eating breakfast, providing a healthy start to the day to support learning!
Increasing Program Participation for Financial Health
Chef Whittaker Williams, Child Nutrition Director for Calhoun County Schools in South Carolina, focused on menu planning and increasing program participation. His aim was to move the school nutrition program budget into the black by school year’s end. To collect valuable student input for menu planning, Chef Williams regularly ate lunch with the students to obtain feedback. He also discussed menu changes and cafeteria promotions with parents to gain support. He also implemented Breakfast in the Classroom, which serves breakfast to students in the classroom after the first morning bell. As a result, the student participation rate increased 30 percent, while plate waste decreased by 25 percent!
Creating Student-Approved Menus to Increase Program Participation
Finding food products that appeal to students and align with the updated nutrition standards for school meals was a challenge for Ms. Glover, the Child Nutrition Director for Clay County Schools in Florida. Several best practices were shared during Team Up for increasing participation, and using that knowledge, she engaged high school students in focus groups to obtain meal and customer service preferences. Clay County also implemented scratch-cooking techniques to minimize processed food on school menus. Following trends in local restaurants and duplicating popular food items in schools, has increased student-appeal of the menus. Meanwhile, program finances have benefited from less food waste and increased student participation, as a result of the marketing and promotion of menus.
USDA is committed to providing support and resources to school nutrition professionals so they can operate successful child nutrition programs. Team Up trainings have occurred all over the country in 2016, with 39 trainings completed in 44 states and two territories. And this month, two more trainings will be held in San Juan, P.R. – our first Team Up trainings conducted entirely in Spanish!