School Nutrition Association February 2015 : Page 62

Work Ideas at Making Food Fun Again Caught up in the mire of meal pattern compliance? Tap your inner artist to rediscover the joy of school meals. BY KIMBERLY COOPER Everyone knows that children can be the harshest critics about food choices. They often turn up their little noses at unfamiliar ingredients or scoff at a menu item that doesn’t look appetizing. Therefore, those on the front lines of school lunch have their work cut out for them. Many employ a variety of effective marketing techniques, such as offering samples, try-me incentives, menus that demonstrate a variety of colors and textures, attractive packaging and clever names. Some operators, however, really kick it up a notch, going far above and beyond the standard reaches of a typical school nutrition operation—genuinely setting out to make the lunch line a fun and surprising place to explore. These creative cafeteria profession-als are crafting food art for individual menu items and serving line displays. Whether to celebrate special holidays, introduce new foods or just perk up the mid-winter blues, these creations are proving a great success in tempting children to eat school meals— and to look forward to each new day in the cafeteria. I n this era of strict school meal regulations, the questions are prolifi c: Is that crust whole grain-rich? Does that entrée meet sodium regulations? Does that meal have a fruit and vegetable component? Wait a second. Step back. What about this question: Are your school meals fun ? take bananas and make them look like dolphins, they are gone,” she reports. Plus, time is relative. Some food art creations are easier than they might appear. Creating banana dolphins, for example, is relatively simple but incredibly effective in grabbing attention. Here’s a how-to: Grab a banana and cut off the bulky tip. Slice the top part in half, cutting inward toward the center of the banana, making a mouth. Use a food-safe marker to create eyes, then add a grape into the mouth slit. “I usually take a piece of blue fabric—for the ocean—and place it into a serving container and put multiple dolphins in it,” explains Kitchen Manager Patti Durst, Ridge Meadows Elementary School, Ellisville, Mo. “My students love them!” For Jenilee McComb, child nutrition director, Provo City (Utah) School District, food art is fun, simple and it works . Make it beautiful, focus on merchandising and the children will eat. According to McComb, making the food look beautiful—from intricate carvings to playful presentations—is the obvious fi rst step in getting children to get excited about making better choices. “They need that ‘wow’ factor,” she insists. Kids defi nitely get wow’d throughout the Provo district on a regular basis. Cafeteria teams at different schools have crafted “Bananarama Mobiles” (cars made of bananas and strawberries), a fruit football player display (including a watermelon helmet), a watermelon witch display (with a carrot-limbed spider), “Pineapple-asaurus,” apple “swans” (given out as prizes), Grinch fruit kabobs (green grape, banana slice, strawberry slice and a tiny marshmallow), and much more. Remember, creative food designs serve a purpose even if there are just one or two on display. For example, intricately carved items are unlikely to be served to individual children—there isn’t enough time in the Why Create Food Art? When you use your imagination, a bed of spinach is no longer a bed of spinach—it’s the grass for a football fi eld made of vegetables. A carved watermelon becomes a shark, complete with ferocious teeth and beady eyes. Even packaged string cheese can be dressed up with a magic marker face and a bow-tied ribbon. Clever? Sure. But such creations are undeniably time-consuming—and, let’s face it, most cafeteria teams don’t have an abundance of extra time on their hands. So, why do some cafeteria teams choose to do it anyway? For Carmen Fischer, SNS, child nutrition services director, Rockwood School District, Eureka, Mo., it’s all about luring the children with adorable foods. “When we 62 School Nutrıtıon • FEBRUAR Y 2015

Ideas at Work

By Kimberly Cooper

Making Food Fun Again

Caught up in the mire of meal pattern compliance? Tap your inner artist to rediscover the joy of school meals.

In this era of strict school meal regulations, the questions are prolific: Is that crust whole grain-rich? Does that entrée meet sodium regulations? Does that meal have a fruit and vegetable component? Wait a second. Step back. What about this question: Are your school meals fun?

Everyone knows that children can be the harshest critics about food choices. They often turn up their little noses at unfamiliar ingredients or scoff at a menu item that doesn’t look appetizing. Therefore, those on the front lines of school lunch have their work cut out for them. Many employ a variety of effective marketing techniques, such as offering samples, try-me incentives, menus that demonstrate a variety of colors and textures, attractive packaging and clever names.

Some operators, however, really kick it up a notch, going far above and beyond the standard reaches of a typical school nutrition operation—genuinely setting out to make the lunch line a fun and surprising place to explore. These creative cafeteria professionals are crafting food art for individual menu items and serving line displays. Whether to celebrate special holidays, introduce new foods or just perk up the mid-winter blues, these creations are proving a great success in tempting children to eat school meals— and to look forward to each new day in the cafeteria.

Why Create Food Art? When you use your imagination, a bed of spinach is no longer a bed of spinach—it’s the grass for a football field made of vegetables. A carved watermelon becomes a shark, complete with ferocious teeth and beady eyes. Even packaged string cheese can be dressed up with a magic marker face and a bow-tied ribbon.

Clever? Sure. But such creations are undeniably time-consuming—and, let’s face it, most cafeteria teams don’t have an abundance of extra time on their hands. So, why do some cafeteria teams choose to do it anyway? For Carmen Fischer, SNS, child nutrition services director, Rockwood School District, Eureka, Mo., it’s all about luring the children with adorable foods. “When we take bananas and make them look like dolphins, they are gone,” she reports. Plus, time is relative. Some food art creations are easier than they might appear.

Creating banana dolphins, for example, is relatively simple but incredibly effective in grabbing attention. Here’s a how-to: Grab a banana and cut off the bulky tip. Slice the top part in half, cutting inward toward the center of the banana, making a mouth. Use a food-safe marker to create eyes, then add a grape into the mouth slit.

“I usually take a piece of blue fabric—for the ocean—and place it into a serving container and put multiple dolphins in it,” explains Kitchen Manager Patti Durst, Ridge Meadows Elementary School, Ellisville, Mo. “My students love them!”

For Jenilee McComb, child nutrition director, Provo City (Utah) School District, food art is fun, simple and it works. Make it beautiful, focus on merchandising and the children will eat. According to McComb, making the food look beautiful—from intricate carvings to playful presentations—is the obvious first step in getting children to get excited about making better choices. “They need that ‘wow’ factor,” she insists.

Kids definitely get wow’d throughout the Provo district on a regular basis. Cafeteria teams at different schools have crafted “Bananarama Mobiles” (cars made of bananas and strawberries), a fruit football player display (including a watermelon helmet), a watermelon witch display (with a carrot-limbed spider), “Pineapple-asaurus,” apple “swans” (given out as prizes), Grinch fruit kabobs (green grape, banana slice, strawberry slice and a tiny marshmallow), and much more.

Remember, creative food designs serve a purpose even if there are just one or two on display. For example, intricately carved items are unlikely to be served to individual children—there isn’t enough time in the world to carve a tomato rose for each student who eats in the cafeteria! Still, the appearance of these beauties alone when displayed on the serving line attracts the eye and attention of the youngsters.

“Just have fun with it,” advises Fischer. “Use what you have on hand and just have fun with the food. You can see the excitement in the children when food is fun.”

For dietitian and menu planner Susan Wilson, Coppell (Texas) Independent School District, food carvings helped to attract students to the salad bar—which often can be a challenge. “The carvings got the kids engaged in the cafeteria and the lunch room,” she reports.

“Food art is bringing excitement to the table!” It’s making the lunch room a fun place to be and closing the gap between the students and the cafeteria workers. When you do that, it encourages participation and healthy eating.”

Get Inspired When it comes to inspiration for food art, the world is somewhat of an oyster for school nutrition professionals. Existing cafeteria promotions are a good place to start, from familiar holidays and observances to important championship games to seasonal experiences. For example, to celebrate National School Lunch Week (NSLW) 2014, the cafeteria team in Provo designed a produce-based display of the NSLW logo (“Get in the Game with School Lunch”), using assorted veggies, including carrots, cucumbers and radishes.

If you’re in search of some tips for getting started with created with food art and displays, Wilson offers some advice from the pros in her Coppell school district.

First, research! Pinterest, a virtual corkboard where people can share ideas, is an invaluable source of inspiration. Simply create an online account at Pinterest.com and plug in some search terms and you will find a wide array of examples of food art creations that others have made to celebrate the seasons and holidays. Guard against getting overwhelmed. The Internet can be a vortex of many beautiful yet often overly ambitious creations, and you need to manage your expectations about duplicating these. Use what you find as inspiration for your own designs and creations.

Second, keep it simple—at least at first! Knife work takes a lot of practice. For your initial attempts, maybe you want to assemble ingredients sorted by shape and/or color to create images. Rather than carving a pineapple into an alligator, use cut pieces of pineapple to form a sunburst or to spell out “Sunshine” in the dead of winter.

Third, be brave! After you’ve gotten the hang of thinking about ingredients in an artistic way, try your hand at small carvings. Check out YouTube for instructional videos.

Last, and most important, be passionate and creative! A little success goes a long way. When you see the reactions of your customers—children and adult—to your artistic handiwork, it is sure to leave you thinking about the next surprise and the one after that. It is possible to keep topping yourself, when you make a commitment to applying your imagination.

Carving out Time Of course, there’s already quite a bit for small cafeteria teams to manage on a daily basis, from purchasing to prep to service to clean-up and everything in-between. How do you carve out the time for special menu presentations or displays like these? It takes a team—willing to make it work.

“They just work at it all day when they have down time,” says Wilson of occasions when her team tackles an intricate display. “Everyone will just stop by and work on it a little bit at a time.”

In Provo schools, the child nutrition staff at each site is required to ensure the serving lines have excellent eye appeal. They’ve taken that idea of “beautiful merchandising” to the next level, inspired by the ideas tried at other schools, McComb reports. And without competition for the same customers, staffers at different schools can and do share expertise and advice. One school’s manager may know how to make a strawberry or tomato rose, for example, and will agree to teach the others. “We have a lot of creative, wonderful employees, and they are all driven and amazing,” boasts McComb, adding, “They make the time. It lifts the spirits and creates a happier environment.”

Food art certainly is the epitome of going the extra step in school meal marketing. But the payoff seems well worth the effort. Students are more engaged, trust the school nutrition team members and try unfamiliar nutritious foods. So, for these creative, crafty professionals—mission accomplished.

Kimberly Cooper is a freelance writer based in Edgewater, Md. Contact her at Kimberly.cooper910@gmail.com. Photos courtesy of Clark-Pleasant (Ind.) Community Schools, Coppell (Texas) ISD, ITS Meals at Provo (Utah) District and RSU 14, Windham Raymond School Department, Maine.

Create Your Own Carvings

Watermelon Fruit Basket

Creating food art is both as easy and as challenging as it sounds:

1. Begin with a serrated knife, much like you would use on a pumpkin. Carve a small strip off the bottom of the watermelon, giving it a flat edge. This will keep it from rolling around when you are working.

2. Next, carefully cut a “V” shape around the sides of the watermelon, removing two large slices. This will create the “handle” of your basket.

3. Use a melon baller to remove the fruit from between what will be the “basket” and its “handle.” Use the same baller to hollow out the “basket” of the watermelon. Set the balls of watermelon aside.

4. Using the same baller, cut balls of other assorted fruits in varying colors—honeydew melon and cantaloupe work well—and mix them together with the balls of watermelon.

5. Place all of the balls of fruit in hollowed out basket of the watermelon.

6. If you have excellent pumpkin carving skills, which come in handy, or have built your expertise over time, use the knife to cut wavy edges around the rims of both the basket and the handle portions of the watermelon.

BONUS

WEB CONTENT

For instructions on how to create a radish rose, as well as additional online resources for creating food art, visit schoolnutrition.org/ SNMagazine/BonusWebContent.

Read the full article at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Ideas+at+Work/1916403/243875/article.html.

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