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Kids Eat with Their Eyes and “Tummies” in Bradenton, Florida

Recently, we recognized Manatee County Schools in Bradenton, Fla. for meeting the Healthier US School Challenge in 28 of their elementary schools and talked with school officials about the healthier school meals. While there, we learned that Manatee County Schools utilizes Creative Recipes to encourage their students to eat healthy.

“Kids eat with their eyes as well as their tummies,” said Sandra Ford, Manatee County Schools Child Nutrition Director and School Nutrition Association President. “Getting them to pick healthy requires that we treat them like customers and give them choices.

We found that is exactly the practice in the serving lines at their schools. A table spoon of jello to a can of applesauce will change the color without significantly changing the nutrients. Students select the red, blue or green applesauce and eat it right away. Using Goldfish Sandwich Thins on Wednesdays for sandwiches also catches their attention.

Manatee County Schools are also creative in the salads they offer and have at least one salad entrée every day. They have chicken Caesar, buffalo chicken, grilled chicken and popcorn chicken salads. And whole grain wraps are offered every day of the week.

“We test different wraps or salads students ask about,” Ford said. “We have done Philly Cheese Steaks, meatball subs and soups as students request them for a limited time. We test every item with students.”

Ford also said an individual school manager will work with students to develop a recipe. They tweak it at the site until they get something that is appealing. Then the district validates it and makes it available to other individual schools.

The new meal standards that are being implemented this school year are "what is right for kids," says Ford.

Children go through the breakfast line at Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary School, Manatee County, Bradenton, Fla. (pictured left to right: USDA FNS Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette; USDA FNCS Under Secretary Kevin Concannon; and Sandra Ford, Manatee County Schools Child Nutrition Director and School Nutrition Association President – USDA photo by Debbie Smoot).

Learn more about the historic, healthy changes to school meals,


See other blog posts in this series: