Back to school with Farm to School: Tips for school nutrition staff

School nutrition professionals can have a positive influence on a student’s lunch choices.

School nutrition staff participants at the Making Michigan Recipes Work training in Marquette learn skills for handling and preparing fresh Michigan produce.

School nutrition staff participants at the Making Michigan Recipes Work training in Marquette learn skills for handling and preparing fresh Michigan produce.

It’s “back to school” season and also prime harvest time for many types of Michigan produce. As more schools adopt Farm to School programs, the school nutrition staff has an important role to play in promoting sales of Michigan products and encouraging healthy choices in the lunch line.

Children don’t just learn in the classroom at school; the lunch room offers tremendous opportunity to teach students healthy choices and life skills that will influence their success in school and their adult lives. School nutrition staff members are the teachers and coaches of the cafeteria. With their help, students can learn how to support local farms to keep their communities healthy while choosing foods that are healthy for their bodies. Michigan State University Extension offers tips for school food service employees to promote lunchtime conversations about local food and Michigan agriculture.

Talking to students about Michigan foods

Learn as much as you can about the new foods you will be serving so that you can talk to students about them.

  • What are the ingredients?
  • Do you know the name of the farmer who grew the fruit or vegetable? Or simply share with students that the food was grown in Michigan.
  • How was it prepared?
  • What does it taste like? Can you compare it to something they may be familiar with? Do you like it? Students look up to you and value your opinions.
  • What nutrients does it have and what good will it do for their bodies? For example, “This spinach is full of calcium to make your bones strong.”

Don’t assume students will choose the new foods on their own. Use suggestive selling techniques and verbal prompts. For example, ask students, “Would you like a Michigan apple to go with your sandwich?”

Another idea is to invite local farmers to visit the cafeteria or classroom to talk to students about the different foods they grow.

A special pilot series of the training Making Michigan Recipes Work is being offered regionally in Michigan this summer and fall through MSU Extension. This training for school nutrition professionals has been supported by USDA funding and is free, though pre-registration is required.   

Michigan State University Extension also offers the Smarter Lunchrooms program, which aims to provide schools with evidence-based tools that improve child eating environments, behaviors and the overall health of children.

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