University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

*Try* a taste test to promote healthy eating and get the most out of your menu

Woman handing out food samples to children

Children are naturally picky eaters, but the cafeteria can be a place for them to experiment with new foods and expand their palates.

Taste testing is a great way for students to try foods they may not have experienced at home. Watching peers and teachers try new foods can also motivate picky eaters to join the crowd.

Taste tests offer benefits to the school nutrition program, as well. Potential menu items can be evaluated before adding to the menu. You can also use testing to explore why a certain item doesn’t sell well. Has it gone unnoticed, or is there something specific students don’t like about it?

In order to have a successful taste testing event, there are some things to consider:

  • Taste testing is a lot of work. Before moving forward with planning, make sure you will have enough help. On average, 2-3 people will be needed per lunch period to run a taste test. Reach out to volunteer groups, parents, or others in the school community if you won’t have enough nutrition staff to cover it.

  • Consult with your school nurse to determine which foods to avoid for students with food allergies or intolerances. If samples will not be single ingredient foods, be sure you will be able to clearly label with all of the ingredients.

  • Narrow it down to 2-3 items you would consider for a taste test. Keep costs down by using recipes that use USDA foods. Get students involved by polling on which ones they’d like to try. Students will show more interest if they’re part of the planning!

  • As you’re looking for ideas on what to taste test, reach out to local food vendors to see if they would be willing to donate product to your school. This is a great way to expose students to new foods and the vendors might see it as an opportunity to promote their products. When seeking donations, make sure donations are of nutritious foods to use taste testing as a tool to promote healthy eating among your students. 

In our next post, we’ll share best practices to make sure your taste test is successful!