From Quarterback Quesadillas to Zippy Zappy Zucchini, school lunch offerings at Highline Public Schools are anything but blah. Nutritionists at Highline work within budget constraints and draw on creative approaches to excite kids about healthy, local food.
Kris Marsh, dietician with the district, acknowledges that kids need to try a new food eight or nine times before they are willing to eat and enjoy it. “We try to find the balance of serving kids classic favorites while also showing them that healthy foods can be good,” she says. For anyone struggling with a picky eater (big or small) at home, Highline’s techniques may spark some ideas.
Instead of appearing at the end of the lunch line, salad bars at many Highline schools are now at the front. Not only that, but kids have opportunities to influence the presentation and content of their meals. In partnership with Public Health – Seattle & King County and Washington State University’s Food $ense, the district has experimented with snazzy signage and involved students in menu development and naming.
At White Center Heights Elementary school, students brainstormed salad bar toppings like Super Vision Carrots, Sunshine Oranges and Jammin’ Jicama. At Seahurst Elementary School, Marsh worked with a 6th grade class to introduce a popular new breakfast offering – a yogurt parfait bar – and saw breakfast attendance increase by over 50%.
“Flavor stations” will roll out this September at a number of schools that include non-salt flavoring options and will be promoted with the help of high school “Flavor Ambassadors,” all part of a sodium reduction effort with partners at King County. And in partnership with FEEST, a King County grantee and youth-led nonprofit that addresses healthy food access and food justice, students worked with nutrition services to establish a youth advisory board and develop recipes for menu items that are served at White Center’s Evergreen High School.
Translate this approach to meals at home by making salad the main course, or by serving it first, before the main. Brainstorm around the kitchen table to name your dinner each evening, and invite eaters in your house to suggest ingredients or recipes they would like to try.
Themes are fun
In September, items like Touchdown Toast and Blitzing Bagel and Cream Cheese appear on the menu in homage to the Seattle Seahawks. In honor of the team’s beloved quarterback, the Russell Sprout Salad got lots of young eaters excited about greens.
Whether it’s football, soccer, art, or movies that excite your dinner table eaters, take a page from the Highline book and try serving Sounders Skewers, Pasta a la Picasso, or Summer Spidey Salad. Or, try brainstorming menu names together.
Incorporate local ingredients
The district highlights local ingredients on Washington Wednesday menus. Beans from Eastern Washington appear in hummus, locally-grown flour is used to bake rolls and French bread, and milk is always local. In 2018, a menu indicator will more prominently note which items are grown in our state.
Talking about the provenance of food can be a fun dinner table topic, even if your meal only features one or two Washington-grown items. You may find yourselves wondering how that particular ingredient is grown, talking about what it tastes like, or other local food you might like to try.
In general, “Kids (at Highline) like seeing something new,” says Marsh. And the same is true for most eaters. Find your own ways to excite your household to participate in mealtime, open up to different ingredients and healthy dishes, and come together over food.
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