Parents are stopping Beth Kavanaugh in the aisles of her local grocery store to get tips on how to help their kids try new foods. That’s because Kavanaugh, food service director at Public Schools of Petoskey, has been successful in getting kids to try everything from black bean and corn salad to radish slaw at school.
And the biggest lesson she’s learned is that students will enthusiastically eat new foods if they have the opportunity to try them in classroom activities before she serves them in the cafeteria. Her activity is called “Try It Tuesdays,” and her efforts even spurred one student to share the Tuesday recipes with her grandma at home in what the student calls “Try It Fridays.”
It’s one of the many farm to school education activities that Kavanaugh and other food service directors, educators and school supporters have developed that connect the cafeteria to the classroom, to the benefit of both.
Petoskey is one of 32 school districts in Michigan this year that received funding from 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan's Kids & Farms, a state pilot program administered by the Michigan Department of Education. The program supplements school food service budgets with matching funds for local produce purchases.
Kids and teachers alike are loading their cafeteria trays with Kavanaugh’s lo mein, where chicken and noodles mingle with locally grown carrots and cabbage. They’re eating it, too.
“There is reduced food waste and an increase in student consumption of fruits and vegetables during lunch. This is noticed not only by the lunchroom aides and cooks but also by the custodial staff. They literally grab my arm, walk me to the trash, and show me how much food is not wasted anymore,” says Kavanaugh.
FoodCorps, a national leader in farm-to-school, affirmed the importance of educational experiences in a study with the Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy at Columbia University. Their study measuring student consumption of produce during two lunch sessions at twenty schools showed that at schools doing 10+ hours of farm to school lessons per year, students ate triple the amount of produce as students participating in fewer activities, or none at all.
Kavanaugh, with the funding support of a Building Healthy Communities grant coordinated by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, implements her program in collaboration with teachers and volunteers.
Farm to school activities align well with STEM program priorities, and Kavanaugh leveraged this to garner support with the district’s curriculum director. After months of building momentum among administrators, educators, and parents in meetings with the support of school principles, Kavanaugh was delighted that “teachers cleared their schedules” for the tastings.
For 15 minutes in classrooms across the district, volunteers facilitate Try it Tuesday tastings and collect student voting cards. Tastings center on the key agreement that all students must taste the offering at the same time, and they are allowed to use all of their senses to work up to tasting. Then they vote tried it, liked it or loved it. Kavanaugh uses the results to decide what would be a successful recipe to menu.
Collaboration is a key to fostering excitement for new foods among kids, and teachers and families are engaged to continue the conversation about the farm fresh items. Students enjoy learning about the Harvest of the Month produce and the farmer who grew it during short videos teachers show in anticipation of the tasting. Harvest of the Month materials are sent home in newsletters, including nutritional and fun facts about the featured item, and the tasting recipe.
“It was a hit from the get-go because volunteers make it fun and exciting. Teachers wanted us to come back because they were trying something new.”
Volunteers served radish slaw at one of the first Try it Tuesday tastings, inspired by Harvest of the Month materials created by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, and available at Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.
Kavanaugh has served the radish slaw again and again, at students’ request. And that same slaw is finding its way onto family dinner tables after parents run into Kavanaugh at the grocery. “They ask me, what items do I need to make that dish that my kids loved?”
You can see a video of Beth Kavanaugh’s Try It Tuesday program here. Kavanaugh was one of three 10 Cents a Meal food service directors to share strategies about cafeteria to classroom connections in a webinar geared for foodservice directors, available here.
Educators, meanwhile, can watch this webinar to learn classroom activities (vetted by curriculum specialists) that get students excited about new foods while also effectively helping teachers to meet their own teaching goals.
Building Healthy Communities is a grant funding opportunity coordinated by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, with support from MSU Extension, Local Food Alliance, FoodCorps, Smarter School Lunchrooms, Cherry Capital Foods, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and Grain Train Natural Foods.