Cafeteria taste tests let children try new foods in a fun way

FoodCorps service members encourage fruit and vegetable preferences among youth through taste tests.

Students at Frankfort Elementary show their Panther Pride by taste testing Panther Fries. Trying the rainbow carrots, sharing which color was their favorite and voting.  Photo Credit: Stephanie Cumper

Students at Frankfort Elementary show their Panther Pride by taste testing Panther Fries. Trying the rainbow carrots, sharing which color was their favorite and voting. Photo Credit: Stephanie Cumper

Children often need repeated exposure to new foods to build acceptance and interest. The school cafeteria is a great place to expose children to new foods that they may not have had a chance to try at home. FoodCorps service members utilize a three-pillared strategy to help make schools a healthier place for kids to eat, learn and grow. Cafeteria taste tests represent one strategy used to positively impact students’ attitudes toward, preferences for and consumption of, fruits and vegetables. They also provide a way to actively involve students and staff in school food decisions. In addition, taste tests help broaden student experiences with a variety of foods – putting them on track to be healthy adults and reduce their chances of suffering from a diet-related chronic disease.  

What happens during a taste test?

During a taste test, students are offered a small sample of food in the cafeteria during lunchtime. After the sample has been offered, students vote on whether they tried it, like it, or loved it. Service members compile voting results and share them with school food staff. Voting results can then be used to help inform the addition of new, often local, foods into school meal programs.

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Nearly 90 percent of Platte River Elementary students loved or liked the Roasted Rainbow Carrots they taste tested in December 2015

In addition to votes, FoodCorps captures some pretty enthusiastic comments from the kids. Here are some recent quotes:

“Can you tell the school to send it (recipe) to my mom? Can I take it home?”

“Do we get to eat the romanesco all the time now because we voted ‘I Loved It’ before?”

What have students tried so far?

Cafeteria taste tests are aligned with our northwest Michigan Harvest of the Month, a program developed to showcase healthy foods that are seasonal to our corner of the state on a monthly basis. Since September, students from Platte River, Frankfort, Interlochen and Traverse Heights elementary schools have tasted and casted votes for recipes that include cauliflower, apples, varieties of winter squash and rainbow carrots. Rainbow Carrot Fries (AKA “Frankfort Panther Pride Fries”), roasted romanesco cauliflower (AKA “Space Broccoli”) and baked apples are among the top for “Loved it!” responses from student diners. Thank you to Traverse Area Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services for posting the baked apples recipe online. Additional thanks to Frankfort Public Schools Food Service for incorporating the baked apples and romanesco into their menu on a regular basis.

Interested in learning how you can support taste tests? Consider the following resources devoted to making your taste test a success.

(Rutgers Cooperative Extension) Creating a Taste-Testing Event: A Resource for School Nutrition Professionals

(United States Department of Agriculture) Taste Testing and Evaluating Recipes

(Georgia Organics) Bright Ideas for Taste Test Success Video

To learn more about FoodCorps in Northern Michigan, contact Michigan State University Extension Sarah Eichberger. 

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