School food service directors in the California Bay Area have been working with wholesalers and farmers to include more local or regional produce in school meals. These directors often face tight budgets and purchasing challenges. Students, particularly low-income students, are often unfamiliar with locally grown foods. Promotional efforts are needed to introduce the new items to students and reduce food waste.
The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties has been conducting cafeteria promotions to support farm to school efforts. During a cafeteria promotion event, a featured produce item is presented in bite-sized samples to students in a fun, pressure-free way. Information about the produce item and the farm or farmer is placed next to the sample station. This helps the students make the connection between the featured produce and its source.
UC CalFresh staff encourage each student to try a sample and offer information about the produce. Students then have an opportunity to give their review of the produce item in a voting station. Students are also reminded to look for the item in the lunch line or on the salad bar.
Cafeteria promotions increase student interest and selection of local produce. To date, 36 local produce items have been sampled during cafeteria promotions in San Mateo and Santa Clara school districts. Food services directors have reported that student interest in featured produce has increased. Student interest was sustained for the entire season of the featured produce following cafeteria promotions.
At one elementary school in Santa Clara County, only 2 Asian pears were selected before being featured during a cafeteria promotion. After the event, students selected 128 pears.
At another elementary school, food service staff reported an increase in student consumption of persimmons from 1/4 case to a full case each week for the entire persimmon season. Increased interest in local produce encourages food service directors to continue farm to school work. The positive results have even inspired a food service director to align the produce she is serving in the cafeteria to what is grown in the school garden. Parents also shared the desire to purchase new produce items because their children tried them at school.
Heard from students during cafeteria promotions:
On kiwi: “This is the best harvest ever!” “You guys should do this more often.”
On grapefruit: “That’s grapefruit in the salad bar? I always thought they were lemons.” "I love it so bad!"
This article was submitted by UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. For more information contact: Mary Vollinger, UC CalFresh Nutrition Program Supervisor, 408-282-3118.