Researchers found that placing fruit under a spotlight can increase fruit selection. That got us thinking – what about vegetables? They are typically selected by fewer than 50% of students. When vegetables are served on the tray, it is typically off to one side. Our question – what can we do to move vegetables into the spotlight?
All summer, the Encouraging Healthy Eating Content Group will report stories and tips around one theme – moving vegetables off the sidelines. We will feature ideas that put vegetables into the spotlight, starting with pairing vegetable toppings with popular entrées, followed by introducing meatless menus, making vegetable smoothies, and teaching children to explore farmer’s markets. The ideas come from schools around the country and are intended to spark your own ideas on how vegetables can be moved from the side of the tray to an appealing place in the menu!
We’ll start with Ballpark Hot Dogs.
Can pairing the least popular item, vegetables, with one of the most popular items, hot dogs, increase vegetable consumption? What if the vegetable had a totally cool name and tasted great? Schools in southwest Ohio thought the idea could work, and created Ballpark Hot Dogs to feature on their menus.
Across the country from neighborhood to professional league stadiums, hot dogs with toppings are popular concession stand items. Clubs create regional specials that can become as popular as the team mascot. We took the name as our inspiration and reworked the toppings to meet the taste and menu requirements of the lunch program. Here are a few ideas:
Chicago Dog: Traditionally served with pickles and sliced tomatoes, this version features a crisp cucumber relish of diced cucumbers and tomatoes. See the recipe below.
Fenway Frank: Fenway Franks are featured in Boston stadiums; this version of the hot dog is served with coleslaw and baked beans! Yummy!
The Big Red Smokie: Cincinnati Reds fans love their Big Red Smokies. Instead of a smokie dog, top off the hot dog with a smoky red topping like red peppers or a diced tomato Pico.
Rockie Dog: No need to travel to Colorado for this dog – serve hot dogs with grilled peppers and onions (and for the brave – add sauerkraut).
Signature Dog: Serve the hot dog with a chopped pineapple salsa made with diced onions, red pepper and lime juice.
Create Your Own: Ask students to create a signature dog using the team mascot or local professional team name as inspiration.
Bundle the Topping with the Entrée
The key to capitalizing on the popularity of the hot dog is to bundle the topping with the hot dog. Creative naming of the two is the start of the bundling process – the strategic location of the topping is the second element of bundling. Offer the appealing topping with or as close to the entrée as possible. Consider these options:
- Place the pre-cupped topping on the tray;
- Place the topping in a display at the same station.
Pre-cup the toppings, if possible. Serving vegetables in ½ cup servings makes crediting the vegetable subgroup a bit easier for staff.
Cupped toppings are also easy to grab and place on the tray. This grab-and-go system also promotes trial of the new item. If a student tries the new topping (yeah!), but does not care for it, the topping can remain on the tray without affecting the hot dog.
Get Their Attention
Use signage and staff prompting to draw attention to the new menu theme. Consider the following in your plan:
- Use simple signage, with a food model, to illustrate how to pair the items;
- Place the model at eye-level;
- Grand Slam: Hold a spirit day event that includes Ballpark Hot Dogs; staff and students wear a shirt from their favorite team.
Other Tips from the Field
- Offer samples of the toppings to students waiting in line;
- Ask for student feedback and suggestions;
- Consider the age of the target audience. Toppings may be more appealing to older students;
- For a non-sports theme, try Gourmet Dogs or Zombie Dogs;
- Keep with it: New behaviors take time to develop.
In schools offering Chicago Dogs and Fenway Franks, 42% to 48% of students who selected a hot dog also selected a vegetable topping. Schools shared these findings with parents and school wellness advocates.
We thank the following school nutrition professionals for sharing their stories:
Little Miami Local Schools
- Rachel Tilford, Food Service Manger
- Darlene Oeder, Kitchen Manager
- Kelly Oeder
- Lorri Lykins
- Brooke Barrett
- Kristi Hess
- JoAnne Morbitzer, Food Service Director
- Laura Hayes, Kitchen Manager
- Pat Nicol,
- Rhonda Lawrence,
- Mary Feurer,
- Shirley Falatach
- Traci Paver
Sycamore Community Schools
- Jessica Johnson, Child Nutrition & Wellness Director
- Kellie Eick, Kitchen Supervisor
- Barb Mink
- Felice Chapman
- Lisa Mandell
- Ruthie Craven
- Stephanie Reisert
- Terry Town
For more resources for featuring fresh vegetables click here!
Marietta Orlowski, Wright State University