Sometimes it's the little things that can have the biggest impact. For instance, Pillsbury™ Mini Cinnis may be small in size but the popular hot breakfast item can play a big role in increasing participation.
"Students are looking for breakfast that not only tastes great, but also makes them feel great," said Betsy Roche, Dallas ISD chef and menu planner. "I love that Mini Cinnis are whole-grain rich, and students love that they're hot, delicious and portable."
She adds it is important to find items that will be a home run with kids. One way that Dallas ISD does this is by asking students for input on school menus. Each year, the district invites 150 students spanning its elementary, middle and high schools to be "taste testers."
The annual food festival takes place at a local event venue and gives students the special opportunity to taste and rate potential new menu items. Electronic feedback is collected on iPads set up around the venue, and the data is utilized to make menu decisions for the next school year.
During the February 2017 event, the Mini Cinnis were the highest-rated item, with 94 percent of students liking or loving them. They were incorporated into the menu for the 2017-2018 SY, and Executive Director Michael Rosenberger says their popularity is evident in the boosted participation numbers.
"It's awesome to see the feedback we receive at the food festival transferring directly into success at the schools," Rosenberger said. "Involving students in the menu selection process empowers them, and definitely impacts their decision to eat school meals."
Gathering student input is a process that seems to be paying off for Dallas ISD. The Food Research & Action Center district recently ranked the district seventh in the nation for large districts with the highest breakfast participation.
"It's been fun and inspiring to see how Dallas ISD works with its student body to make them an integral part of the school menu planning process," said Moren Akinkoye, account executive for General Mills Foodservice, who works with the school district. "As a manufacturer, it is also helpful for us to get important feedback about our products direct from the audience that matters the most."