Summer feeding programs are increasing in number in response to student needs. Popular examples include food trucks, mobile feeding sites (such as youth centers and libraries), and in-school programs. Here are some quick tips to help your program appeal to kids and promote healthy choices! You and your school nutrition staff are probably doing a lot of these things in your lunchroom already; this is just a quick reminder to include them in your summer program as well!
Getting the Word Out
Inform parents about the program. Before summer vacation begins, use all communication channels to share information such as locations, hours of service, eligibility requirements (if any), and how parents can pre-register their children (if registration is necessary). You can also share information about meals, such as whether they are hot or cold, if they are served on trays or bagged, and what degree of choices kids have regarding items. Share information via your school or lunchroom’s social media accounts and speak to the front office about including information in the school newsletter, phone calls, and texts home. Also ask teachers to distribute flyers directly to students to share with their parents. You can also speak with the PTA about introducing the program at one of their meetings.
Quick and Efficient Training
- Train your staff on positive prompting and communication cues! If you have volunteer staff or staff from other lunchrooms, they may be unfamiliar with verbal prompts that encourage children to select healthy options. Also make sure that all staff follow food safety protocols, including being aware of allergens contained in each meal component and ensuring that all options are properly labeled. Information related to allergens and ingredients in each entrée or side should be readily available in case a student or parent has a question.
- Consider the No Time to Train staff development resources when training. The program is fast, easy, and informative—just what you need for a summer operation.
Convenience is Key
- Convenience is crucial, especially when a feeding location is not in school or when kids are quickly picking up the meals before going off to their next activity. Make everything as easy to consume and eat as possible. Whole or sliced fruit, sliced raw veggies, string cheese, yogurt parfaits, sandwiches, wraps, and milk are some examples.
- Convenience is also important to maintaining smooth operations. If service time is limited, consider the most time-efficient setup. For example, you might create two identical lines so children receive their meals more quickly and begin eating sooner. Offer grab-and-go bagged meals or partially assembled meals (entrees bagged, children select side and drink). Make sure you can refill items quickly and easily by storing them in a nearby cooler or dry storage area.
- If kids line up and wait to pick their meals, place menu signage in easily visible areas so they can decide what they will ask for before reaching the point of sale.
Beat the Heat!
- Keep drinks and fruit cold! These items are perfect for cooling kids down on a hot day and the cool serving temperature will increase their appeal.
- Offer cold entrees such as wraps, salads, fruit and granola yogurt parfaits, and deli sandwiches.
- Pair entrees with refreshing sides that complement their flavors. For example, instead of pairing tacos with hot sides such as rice and beans, try cool summer-themed sides such as cucumber salad, cold roasted corn with spices, potato salad, macaroni salad, or a tomato mango relish.
Try Something New
- Mix it up! Summer is the perfect time to test out new recipes. Add interest to your menu by introducing new possible entrees and sides. Don’t forget to survey the kids afterwards! Use this feedback to help you decide if you’d like to add the new items to the fall menu as well.
- Whenever offering something new, have a taste test first, with a display including clear pictures explaining what each dish is. This will encourage more children to try it and give you a better sense of the probable popularity of the item.
- Have a clear menu that includes pictures and descriptions of each dish. While some kids might be familiar with many of the options from the school year, the summer environment and food selection might be new to some children. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that everyone knows what exactly they’re eating.
Bagged Lunch Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!
- Make sure that a bagged lunch constitutes a complete meal.
- Give the lunch a catchy name such as “Finger-Lickin’ Chicken Wrap,” “California Dream Salad Shaker Meal,” or “Summer Sizzle Combo.” Use our printable labels, naming tool, and creative naming workshop for ideas.
- Add a colorful branding item, such as a sticker, or personalize the bags themselves with eye-catching designs or your school or program’s logo. Bonus idea: host a design contest and select a student-made logo or promotional signage design for your program!
- Offering only one meal option? Make it sound appealing by giving it a creative name and displaying eye-catching signage that shares engaging nutrition facts about the ingredients inside. Leave room for some consumer choice wherever possible, such as in the side or beverage. For example, you might say, “Today we are serving the Mexican Fiesta meal. Would you like white or chocolate milk with that? And which fruit would you prefer, sliced apples or a banana?”
- Add a Flavor Station so kids can personalize their meal with low-sodium spices and sauces. This can be on a standalone cart, a section of service counter, or an extension of your pre-existing condiments table.
Keep Things Running Smoothly During the End of Service
- Coordinate with your custodial staff when you plan your service area layout and waste management procedures.
- Keep in mind how children will be carrying their lunch—if it’s on trays, make sure to post signage to clearly indicate where to dispose of waste and where to place dirty trays.
- Consider your waste output. Are you recycling? Composting? Can you re-use trays, bags, or service items? Make sure signage clearly indicates where to dispose of different items, because it is not always intuitive to kids which items become trash, recycling, or compost.
- Keep waste away from the food service area! It is not attractive to see trash cans near the service window and can result in food contamination. Cover the trash can to reduce flies.
A PDF version of this article can be found here.
Katie Kuhl, Social Media Coordinator, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office
Erin Sharp, MS, MAT, Curriculum Designer, Smarter Lunchrooms Movement National Office