Making healthy food fun

Changing students perspectives on healthy eating can take some innovative thinking.
Changing students perspectives on healthy eating can take some innovative thinking.

During the first half of the year, many food service professionals and directors have encountered students challenging new health regulations. After all, it can be difficult for young students to realize the benefits of such a decision, especially when they consider French fries or tater tots to be their favorite food. However, it is still possible to make lunch fun and exciting while adhering to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

As food service directors know first hand, convincing school-aged children to try healthy food over a deep-fried plate can be a challenge. The trick, according to registered dietitian Sharon Richter, is to make healthy as fun as possible

"Some of my favorite things to do are, you take some lettuce or broccoli and add little cheddar bunnies so you have the bunnies playing in their field of grass," Richter says. "Or, you can take the Justin's almond butter or peanut butter squeeze packs and you can add them to an apple, a banana or even celery. Add your raisins, and you have your bumps on a log. You can get something like hummus and dip some vegetables into it and cut them into fun shapes."

Richter also suggests using cookie-cutters for a quick and cost-efficient way of adding a little fun to student lunches. This works especially well with proteins, as they can be easily made into fun shapes such as dinosaurs or stars. 

Brian Wansick, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, also believes in the power presentation has to sway student opinions. He has been working with a food service director in St. Paul Minnesota to develop a lunch tray that highlights the areas students like and encourages healthy eating habits

Wansick researched the elements students want most from their school lunches. The most common requests were for more of the foods that were "fun" or "cool." With this in mind, Wansick designed a tray that would make the entrée, the starch, and the dessert look larger and more satisfying that the other elements, even if they were a smaller portion. This was accomplished by creating shallower compartments for these foods. 

The tray was also designed to keep the vegetable serving hot and the fruit cold for longer, which further improves appeal. The tray is also designed to look "off" without both fruit and vegetable. This is to help motivate students to try both, even if they are not required to. 

According to Wansick's research, foods that are the most visible and accessible appear the most appealing. His research has also led him to conclude that how much students eat are significantly affected by our psychological perspective. Through careful presentation, it is possible to influence student reactions and guide them to making healthier choices. 

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act has required many food service directors to seek innovate ways to ensure high involvement in student lunch programs. However, these innovate initiatives are often held back by concerns about recipe cost and exceeding the budget. Fortunately, culinary software services are available to help food service directors explore the most effective ways of complying with recent regulations without breaking the bank.

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