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How does St. Paul Public Schools add healthy items to their menu?

SSL Veg Pizza1Last week we had the opportunity to speak with Angie Gaszak, RD Nutrition Specialist with the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS). Being based in Minnesota, we have followed the innovation and success of St Paul Public Schools and their mission to create and serve foods that students get excited about. We were reminded of their work in a recent article in the St Paul Pioneer Press (St Paul Schools’ Healthy-Food Kick Gets National Attention) and we were pleased when Angie agreed to meet up with us. We learned so much, we might have to share them in multiple posts.

Today we wanted to focus on how SPPS builds their repertoire of healthy meal options- or as they call them “Healthy Hits.”

First we need to recognize that the SPPS lunch menu is very successful. They adhere to (and exceed) the new dietary guidelines, their participation rate is about 78 percent and after enjoying a lunch there last week we can attest that the meals are tasty and nutritious! (You can get a glimpse at their menu at the right.)

Angie allowed that the students at SPPS have increasingly sophisticated tastes. They are willing to try new things and the diversity of the student body encourages the school to continually create new recipes. It seems to us as if SPPS has played a role in supporting and developing discerning tastes by offering new items in their lunch line.

  1. SPPS has a process for soliciting, testing and approving new menu items.
  2. Recipes are submitted by staff, students, families and community members. You can submit a recipe online.
  3. Nutrition Services a a few preliminary questions:
    1. Is it healthy?
    2. Is it feasible (ingredients, labor, equipment, etc.)?
    3. Will the kids like it?
  4. If it passes the initial triage, they look deeper.
    1. Analyze cost per serving (~$0.60/serving or less)
    2. Analyze nutritional profile (calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, etc.)
  5. Small and large batch tests. They look at whether it is truly feasible with the large scale production in the Nutrition Center and/or in schools?
  6. Taste Test, focus group, or sampling. Everyone gets involved with the taste test – including kids, who after all are the target palate.
  7. Pilot at a school, gather feedback from staff and students.
  8. Put it on the menu 3 times to gather feedback from staff through surveys and check participation numbers.
  9. If all is positive, it’s a hit!
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