It's no secret that students can get tired of eating the same thing over and over again. Offering different and new menu items can freshen up your meals and get students excited about eating in the cafeteria. Hosting a taste test event is a great way to get students involved in choosing new menu items and learning more about their preferences. A successful taste test gives students the opportunity to try new recipes and share valuable feedback before you start serving them on a regular basis.
Getting started is easier than you think! Here are some strategies to help make your taste testing event successful:
Pick your taste test menu
Whether you're testing new entree recipes or different veggie options, you'll want to focus on 3-4 menu items for each taste test you conduct. Although it may be tempting to offer all kinds of new items, keeping the menu limited will help you gather more actionable data. Testing too many menu items at once can be confusing for students and can make it harder for you to analyze the results afterwards.
You'll also want to make sure you only choose foods that you anticipate adding to your regular menu. You don't want to get kids excited about a new recipe that won't work in the long run!
If this is your very first taste test, consider offering a few items that are already on your menu and are familiar to students. This way, students will feel more inclined to participate because they recognize the meal items and, more importantly, know what their opinion of them is.
Set up your taste test
Once you've selected your menu for your taste test, you'll need to plan some logistics. Taste tests run best when there is a scheduled and structured time for students to try foods. You could hold a one-time event or set aside one day each month for recurring taste tests. Implementing monthly events like Friday Try-Day are a fun way to engage students and staff in your program on a routine basis.
When choosing a location for your taste test, think about how many students you're hoping to include. If you're looking to get a lot of feedback from many students, choose a big, centralized location like the cafeteria so students can easily visit when they have a free period. Alternatively, if you want to target a specific grade, you'll want a smaller location like a classroom so you can gather more in-depth feedback.
Here are a few ways you can set up menu items for tasting:
- Set out trays of sampling cups along the lunch line so students can easily grab them while in line during serving periods.
- Have cafeteria staff go around with a serving cart and hand out samples directly to students in the cafeteria. Or, have the serving cart visit each classroom to hand out samples!
- Set up a table so that students can come and sample when they want.
The main purpose of hosting a taste test is to collect feedback directly from students to improve your menus. Make it quick and easy for students to give their opinions. Students can be easily distracted, especially during lunch time.
Here are a few ways you can have students provide feedback:
- Create an online survey, like Survey Monkey, and have students fill it out on an iPad in the cafeteria.
- Hand out printed surveys along with your taste test samples for students to fill out and return.
- Have ballot boxes set up and labeled "Put this on the menu!", "Maybe would try again?" and "Never serve this again.". This way students can come up and easily cast an anonymous vote.
Get students engaged
Student involvement is essential for any successfully tasting event. Here are some easy tips to maximize participation:
- Offer an incentive. Enter participants in a raffle to win a gift card to a popular restaurant or store.
- Have a themed taste test. During Halloween, try that Pumpkin Roll you've been thinking about adding to the menu. Or, during the holidays, test out some Figgy Pudding!
- Incorporate your school garden. Let students go out and pick their own fruits and vegetables to test new recipes using these fresh ingredients.
Taste tests are a fun way to get students involved in your program and an even better way to be sure they love what's being served. Your students will be excited to know they had a hand in helping to choose what's on the menu.
Has your program held a taste test recently? What worked and what didn't? Help your fellow school nutrition professionals and share your stories in the comments section below!