So…you want to introduce a new food into your child nutrition program, but you’re not quite sure how to do it. It’s a gamble, when you really think about it. Maybe you’ll add a new food or dish to your serving line and the kids will really love it! Or…maybe you’ll add that food to your menu and the kids won’t touch it. If the students reject the new food, you’ll have learned by trial-and-error, but you’ll have wasted money, time and effort in the process. One of the best ways to find out if introducing a new food to your program is a good idea is by performing taste tests.

How to Host a Successful Taste Test in Your Child Nutrition Program

How to Host a Successful Taste Test in Your Child Nutrition Program

Why It Works

Many schools employ taste tests in order to have kids sample foods they wish to introduce to the menu, and to have the students give their honest opinions about the foods. Taste tests are especially helpful for figuring out which farm to school foods will be best received by your students, or to see if students might enjoy any exotic or out-of-the-ordinary foods or dishes you’d like to add to the menu.

According to the Edible Schoolyard, many positive results can come from hosting a taste test. First and foremost, a taste test encourages students to try new foods. Secondly, if the students enjoy the food they have sampled in the taste test, they’ll be more likely to participate in your child nutrition program – and what program isn’t constantly seeking ways to increase participation? Taste tests can also “create a food environment that is inquisitive and curious about food”, setting students up to be open-minded when it comes to exploring different culinary creations in the future.

How to Get Started

Successfully hosting a taste test in your child nutrition program requires careful planning. If you’re interested in hosting a taste test, it’s important to decide what foods or dishes you will be sampling first. Do your research to determine which farm-fresh or exotic foods have fared well in other child nutrition programs, what recipes were used,  and what kinds of ingredients are used (avoiding foods that could contain allergens, if possible). You should also figure out how much the food or dish would cost to purchase, prepare and serve, to ensure that you are staying within your budget for this side project.

You will also need to make sure that you have the proper materials and volunteers needed to successfully launch the taste test. The Edible Schoolyard suggests preparing approximately 20 pounds of food in order to provide enough samples for a school of 300 students, but keep in mind that not all students will take the samples. Other necessary materials are probably already present in your cafeteria – facilities to clean, prep and cook the food, rubber gloves to handle the samples, and a table or tray on which to serve up the samples – but make certain that you will have access to all of these materials on taste test day.

This organization also suggests having at least five volunteers manning the taste test– one person to prepare the samples, and two pairs of two to hand out the samples and gather feedback from the students. You can position a taste test table at the beginning or end of the regular serving line, so that students may add the taste test sample to their trays. You could also take the samples on a tray to the students at their tables or in their classrooms. If you think that peers could help to really encourage other students to participate in the taste test, you could even consider recruiting student volunteers. It really depends on what works best for you, your program and your volunteers.

It’s Go-Time!

Go ahead and prepare the sample food or dish the day before or the morning of the taste test. When it’s go-time, have all volunteers in position and ready to begin serving. Be sure to brief volunteers about their responsibilities, and encourage them to be very friendly and encouraging of the students, in order to get them to participate in the taste test. Depending on the food being sampled, you can serve it to students on a small plate, bowl, or in a cup. If using a taste test table, it’s a good idea to create some kind of visually appealing signage to help students understand what you are doing.

Even if the food is something the students wouldn’t normally order from the menu at a restaurant, most kids won’t turn down a free sample. And, to reward the students even further for taking part in your taste test, you can reward them with something like an “I tried it!” sticker. This little prize, which is especially well-received by younger students, remind them of the fun activity in which they participated, and can serve as a motivating factor for other students to sample the food from the taste test.

Recording and Analyzing the Data

After the samples have been tested, then what? This is where you record your data and determine if introducing the food to your program would be a financially responsible decision. You could record whether or not the students would try the food again on a clipboard – but where’s the fun in that? Inviting the students to physically cast their vote is a great way to help them feel involved in the process of bringing new foods into the cafeteria. You can have the students place stickers on a poster to signify their vote, or have them write their name on a slip of paper and insert it into a “yes” or “no” ballot box. Be sure to use phrasing that is positive in nature – think “I tried it and liked it!” and “No, it’s not for me.” You could also use stick figures or emojis to label the ballot boxes. If you’re deploying the taste test in a high school where stickers may be “too kid-ish”, pass out surveys for the students to turn back in. You can ask them if they liked the sample food, why or why not, and what other foods they would like to see served in the cafeteria – for added insight!

Once the taste test has been completed, you can review the collected data in order to determine whether or not adding this food or dish (or some variation of it) would be well-received in your program. After counting and re-counting the votes, take the time to discuss the results of the taste test with your child nutrition program to begin thinking about logistics for serving this food, if the students seemed to really like it. Edible Schoolyard even suggests sending out results and fact sheets to the parents, principals and food service staff. You can also begin thinking of creative ways to market this food or dish to your students in the future – through posters and flyers, on digital signage or online menus, on social media, etc.

For examples of foods to consider introducing to your program, and for fact sheets about each of these foods, please visit the Taste Test Tuesday resource page from Edible Schoolyard.

Tell Us About Your Experience!

Have you ever performed a taste test in your child nutrition program? Which food or dish did you introduce to your students, and how was it received? What lessons did you learn from hosting a taste test? Do you have any advice for our readers? Please leave your suggestions and ideas in the comments below!