You put a lot of hard work into planning your menus, but success is only achieved if you are pleasing your toughest critics—your students. As you look for new ways to get kids excited about eating at school, it’s important to establish an open dialogue with students to find out what they will get excited about and enjoy.
"Student feedback is instrumental in ensuring menu success so that you are serving food that kids will accept and be excited about eating," says Brent Budke, global consumer insights senior manager at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. "Kids are very honest and can give you input which you can use to strengthen your program and drive participation."
Brent, who regularly conducts research with both kids and operators on behalf of General Mills Foodservice, says organizing ways for kids to provide feedback doesn’t have to be a daunting task. He offers some turnkey tips to establish a process and make it fun:
"Engaging students in the menu planning process goes a long way in boosting participation," said Mark Chavez, director of nutrition services at Santa Ana Unified School District in Santa Ana, Calif., where they hosted its first ever district wide "Voice Your Choice" event last May.
The student and parent food show included more than 160 samples from approximately 60 different vendors or manufacturers to showcase food products the school was considering for breakfast, lunch and snack menus. Held on a weekend, the event also included student talent for entertainment and a raffle. Both students and parents voted at each booth with the data being used to make menu choices for the following school year.
Chavez credits the "Voice Your Choice" event for helping the district boost in participation by 20 percent at breakfast and 10 percent at lunch this school year. He says the event also helped to dispel common misperceptions about school food as it allowed parents to see for themselves the foods the school is serving and sample it alongside their children.
"It’s all about empowering the students and giving them an opportunity to share their opinions," says Chavez. "Giving students a voice in the matter ensures we are serving the foods they want to eat. This process also helps to generate word-of-mouth and trials as these students are more likely to encourage their friends to try the new items they had a hand in getting on the menu."
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