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Selling School Lunch 

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Want to get kids to eat more vegetables in school lunchrooms? Try borrowing a technique that Costco and grocery stores use to boost sales: Offer a sample. "It's a long-standing marketing tool that works," said Jane Kolodinksy, one of four University of Vermont researchers who found that kids are more likely to eat school lunch — even vegetables — if they have had a prior opportunity to sample the entrée. In an article published in the December issue of Preventive Medicine Reports, Kolodinsky and her colleagues outlined the three-month study they conducted at Milton Middle School three years ago. Milton food service staff, in consultation with the researchers, developed four new menu items: chicken & broccoli Alfredo, root vegetable stew, savory turkey loaf and eggplant Parmesan. Each month, one of those items was offered each week. In September 2015, each dish simply appeared on the lunch line, like any other entrée. In October, students were offered a sample of the dish the day before it was served. Then, in November, each item again appeared on the lunch menu. Each day, Milton students could choose a different alternative, including pizza, a sandwich or salad bar. In November, 40 percent of the kids opted for the new entrée, up from the 31 percent who chose it in September. Milton has offered taste tests in the seven years that Steven Marinelli has been the district's food service director. "It does work extremely well in our cafeteria," he said. One example: "We taste-tested kale, and then we made a kale, apple and cheddar salad, and the kids just went crazy over it," he said. A robust school lunch program, the researchers reported, boosts child nutrition, supports local agriculture by offering local foods, and benefits the broader community by helping food pantries and other organizations battle food insecurity. The researchers hoped to show that everyone can win, Kolodinsky said, "and, indeed, we were very pleased with the results."

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