Successful menu planning is all about student participation. Obviously, it’s necessary to follow all the USDA requirements regarding what your School Lunch program must serve with each meal, but if the students aren’t eating the food, then all the other aspects of your menu planning become irrelevant.
In order to use smart menu planning to increase student participation in your School Nutrition program, you need to do two things well:
Get feedback from the students.
Incorporate that feedback by making adjustments to the meals you serve.
To that end, let’s look at these two objectives for ensuring student acceptance of your meals, along with Harris School Solution’s (HSS) practical advice for how you can realistically accomplish each one, even given the time constraints that School Lunch programs often face.
Getting Student Feedback
Some School Lunch programs are able to coordinate student committees to help guide their menu planning. If you have the time and resources to do this, we highly recommend it.
For other programs, however, this may require a time investment that isn’t feasible. You would need to select and set up the panels, your students would need to participate in them, and everyone would need to coordinate and work together to accommodate the needs of both the program and, at the same time, the students.
Also, a potential pitfall to look out for is that if you rely on a sample of students (those on the committee), you risk neglecting the tastes and needs of the actual majority of your students.
How, then, are you supposed to get input from all of your students, and get it in a way that doesn’t take too much time for your team to sift through, consider, and act on?
HSS Practical Tip
If time constraints and wide-ranging student tastes are an issue for your School Lunch program, consider giving a quick survey to one homeroom class from each grade, and rotating which classes you choose each month/week. Think of it as a dynamic panel or a shifting sample. This will help you zero in on what’s working and what’s not, while keeping your sample size for each survey both manageable for you and inclusive/reflective of all students.
Once you have some student input on your meals, you can begin to consider tweaking or changing which meals you serve based on the taste, texture, and types of food students tell you they enjoy (or, just as likely, the ones they tell you they don’t enjoy).
But are there other reasons that students wouldn’t eat your food? Reasons that are more difficult to overcome when menu planning, where simply serving fajitas in place of raviolis, for example, isn’t enough?
Since allergies and special preferences (for example, religious requirements, veganism/vegetarianism, or gluten issues, among many others) seem to have become more common today than in the past, it’s more critical now than ever before to consider such needs and preferences when planning your menu and, in particular, the ingredients within each of your meals.
HSS Practical Tip
The thing to focus on here is creativity. Whenever possible, try to make substitutions to meals and, maybe more importantly, within individual menu items, so that the meals will work for students who have allergies and special preferences while still appealing to the overall majority of students. Easier said than done, of course, but investing the time to think through the challenge will actually end up saving you time (and money) overall because you won’t have to prepare separate meal options.
Keep in mind, though, that if you go this route, you will need to make it clear to students that a given meal option happens to work for certain allergy needs and other preferences. For example, if you swap out standard hot dogs for kosher hot dogs, students won’t immediately know that a change has been made. Students with such a preference likely would think they still can’t eat the hot dogs, given past experience. Be sure, then, to indicate when a meal meets specific allergy needs and other preferences.
Want an efficient and engaging way to collect and use student feedback?
HSS’ own interactive app, EZSchoolLunch, makes student feedback fast, fun, and actionable.
Click below to learn about EZSchoolLunch.