Tastings Event Guide

If you can answer all of the questions below, you are well on your way to a successful tasting. Click on each question to be taken to more information on the topic. Download a PDF version of this page.


What is the goal of the tasting?
Clarifying why you’re facilitating a tasting event will influence decisions about what to taste and how the tasting is implemented. Sample goals include:

  • To educate:
    • To understand where and how foods are grown
    • To support/complement a classroom lesson
  • To introduce:
    • To introduce new, healthy, nutrient-dense foods
    • To gather feedback on potential menu items
    • To highlight current menu items to increase selection
  • To support school meals
    • To increase participation in school meals
    • To improve acceptance of a particular menu item
    • To improve perception of school meals programs
    • To model best practices for displaying, promoting, and serving healthy foods
What foods will you taste?
Based on your goals, you may organize an event to tastefoods that:

  • Are linked to an FSNE lesson, grown in the school garden, or assessed in FSNE evaluation tools
  • Highlight observance months/days (National Blueberry Month, Homegrown School Lunch Week, National Salad Month)
  • Demonstrate seasonality and highlight local farms
  • Are low-selling items from the school menu, perhaps presented in different ways (sliced vs. whole)

The resources available for preparation may also impact your food selection decisions…do you have time to prepareguacamole samples for 1,200 students? See the Logistics section for considerations in planning production of your samples.

Check with the school nurse for student allergy information and try to be as inclusive as possible. Consider having a gluten-free or dairy-free option during your food tasting.

Plan Ahead for Students with Allergies

  • Ask an administrator if the school has any policies for addressing food allergies during school events.
  • Request a list of all students known to have allergies from the school nurse (for classroom-based tastings, confer with the teacher).
  • Share the foods being served and all of their ingredients with the school nurse, so s/he can contact students with allergies and their teachers.
  • Put up a sign at your tasting with all of thefood’s ingredients, and a special notation if itcontains any of the “Big 8” allergens (dairy,egg, fish, peanut, shellfish, soy, tree nuts,and wheat).
  • Remember that some students may not beable to articulate that they have an allergy,so never force anyone to take a sample.
Where and when will you hold the tasting?
Will you testing event occur…:

  • In the cafeteria during lunch?
  • At a special event such as a field day or health fair?
  • During arrival or dismissal (potentially engaging parents?)?
  • In the classroom (as part of a lesson provided to the whole school)?

The timing, the foods you taste, and the number of students participating will all impact where your food tasting is located. You might use a classroom, the school cafeteria, or a lobby. Arrange the time and place by coordinating with teachers, food service staff, and any administrators in charge of common space reservations.

For cafeteria tastings, you may choose to set up a tasting station that students visit to take a sample. Place your sampling station in a high-traffic area so students will be more likely to try the foods, such as right as they exit the service line. Alternatively, you may choose to serve students samples at their seats. This takes more labor but ensures all students will receive a sample without disrupting normal traffic flow.

Who will procure the indredients?
FSNE funds can be used to provide samples of foods for tasting events that link to our nutrition education programs. A sample should be one or two bites.

If your tasting event will occur in the cafeteria, and if your goal is linked to selection of menued or potentially menued items, coordinate the tasting with the cafeteria manager. It’s a great way to get them involved in nutrition promotion, and can help support their efforts to move more healthy food. Ask the cafeteria manager if their distributor might provide samples of a produce item you’d like to feature—many will do this for free!

Who will prepare samples for the tasting?

Are you preparing the samples, or will the cafeteria staff? Will you prepare the samples off site, will you prepare them in the school’s kitchen, or will you ask the cafeteria manager to prepare samples? Be sure to tell him/her that you are ServSafe certified. If you are sampling a recipe that is prepared in a large batch, be sure to have a plan for filling trays with portioned samples before students arrive and throughout the tasting.

Where will the samples be stored?

Where will your prepared samples be stored? Don’t assume that you can use the cafeteria’s refrigeration—they are often very strapped for space. If transporting and storing samples in coolers be sure that they remain at 41° or below. During service, cold foods can be held at room temperature for up to six hours as long as it never reaches 70°.

Who will facilitate the tasting?

Arrange to have at least two people at your sample station. If you will be serving samples to seated students, try to have at least four people. This can include FSNE educators, food service staff, parent volunteers, and perhaps even students interested in promoting school nutrition. Be sure that everyone who will be serving is trained on food safety procedures, including proper hand washing.

What materials do you need to PREPARE the food samples?

For more information see the Tasting Events Materials Checklist.

What materials do you need to STORE the food samples?

For more information see the Tasting Events Materials Checklist.

What materials do you need to DISPLAY the food samples?

For more information see the Tasting Events Materials Checklist.

How will you link the testing to classroom-based nutrition education?
The Tasting Event Materials Checklist includes a list of items to help deliver nutrition education messages during the tasting and link to classroom content. The checklist includes links to signage and other educational materials to share nutrition information about samples, remind students of lessons they completed in the classroom, and give creative names to foods. Refer to Sample Food Names for Use with Elementary School Students for ideas for creative names for foods.

If possible, make copies of recipes to send home with students.

Post the Tasting Rules at the tasting station to set a standard for how students reach to the sampled foods. The rules include:

  • EVERYONE is encouraged to taste the food (allergy exempt).
  • Words such as “yuck” and “ugh” are NOT allowed, especially before tasting.
  • Use your VOCABULARY – use adjectives to describe what you like and don’t care for about food tastes and textures.
  • TASTE FIRST and then decide if you like it or not.
  • After tasting, YOU CHOOSE if you want to finish eating the remainder on your plate.
  • TASTES CHANGE so try the food again if you have tried it at some other time and place.
Will students provide feedback on the sampled foods?

Provide a mechanism by which students can express their opinions about the samples using polite and appropriate language. It can also provide valuable information to inform food service operations. Student feedback can be gathered through votes on a favorite item, or asking for more detailed feedback. The Tasting Events Materials Checklist includes a variety of tools for gathering student feedback.


How will you promote the tasting event to students, teachers, staff, and parents?
Generate excitement about the tasting by promoting it before the event. Promotional materials should reach parents, teachers, staff, and students with a consistent message. Find out if you can invite parents; their attendance will allow them to see their children trying new foods, and allow them to serve as role models. You may also want to send a note home after the tasting to inform parents about what their child tasted and encourage them to discuss the experience with their child. Materials to help promote your tasting event are included in the Tasting Event Materials Checklist.


What materials do you need?
Use the Tasting Event Materials Checklist to identify the materials you’ll need to safely prepare and store samples, and set up a sampling station that makes students want to try new foods!
How will you set up your tasting station?

Employ Smarter Lunchrooms principles in setting up your station.

  • Make samples visible and attractive by serving them on brightly colored trays displayed at eye level to students. Colorful foods stand out nicely when served in black sample cups.
  • Enhance taste expectations by giving samples creative names (see Sample Food Names for Use with Elementary School Students) and making the display interesting and attractive.
  • Display an example of the whole ingredients included in the sample(s), and/or an ingredient list with nutrition facts.
What verbal nudges and printed educational materials will accompany the samples?

If you have at least two adults working the tasting, one can serve the food and encourage the students to sample it. Another staff member can help gather student feedback, administer any incentive programs planned to go with the tasting, and keep the sampling station clean.

Review the Verbal Prompting resource included in this guide. Use verbal cues to encourage healthy choices and the students’ excitement about trying new foods.

Will you rewads students for their adventurous spirit in trying new foods?

Encourage students to participate in the tasting by providing an incentive. Incentives can be as simple as giving students a sticker for trying a sample (see Tasting Events Materials Checklist: Incentives), or you can get creative in setting up an incentive program. Some ideas include:

  • Raffle: Give students a ticket for trying the sample. Have them write their name on it and place it in a jar. At the end of the tasting event, draw three names for a special prize.
  • Bingo: Students are given a bingo card with a variety of foods in the squares (different students will have different versions of the card). They receive a stamp on the appropriate square each time they try a food. They earn a prize when they get bingo. This activity works best if you will have a series of tastings throughout a year, and can include foods served at tasting events as well as foods served on the lunch line. A Tasting Bingo card is provided.
  • Passports: Students are given a card that is stamped each time students try a new food sample. When they fill up their cards they earn a reward.
  • The Name Game: Invite students to submit their ideas for a creative name for the food(s) they have tried. The winner of the contest will have their creative name shared on the morning announcements and featured on the service line the next time the food is served in the cafeteria.

Discuss the logistics of any of the above incentive activities with cafeteria staff, teachers, and cafeteria monitors. Be aware that introducing additional materials for students to keep track of in the cafeteria can present a challenge to maintaining the fast pace of the service line. Offer your assistance with managing materials related to the incentive—cafeteria staff have their hands full!

Rewards for achieving the incentive can (and should!) include free/non-food rewards. Some ideas for individual rewards (i.e., raffle or bingo) include being first in line the following day, having lunch with the principal or teacher, or wearing a ‘nutrition hero’ name badge. Group rewards (i.e., if everyone in the class completes a passport) can include extra minutes at recess or playing a physically active game during class. A list of material rewards is included in the Tasting Events Materials Checklist.

How wil you gather beedback on the samples offered?
If students will vote on a favorite item sampled during the tasting event, be sure to share how the voting outcome will be used. This will help the tasting experience provide a sense of agency. Voting outcomes might include having the winning item served on the lunch line, serving it at school celebrations, or providing an opportunity for students to learn how to prepare the food. Report outcomes in a variety of forms, such as announcing preferred foods on the morning announcements, including a write up in the school newsletter, or distributing a recipe for or using the favorite food to the whole school.


What tools will you use to evaluate the tasting and inform future events?
After the food tasting, consider the following questions to evaluate your event:

  • What did you learn about student preferences through voting/surveys? How will you use this information in future education lessons or tasting events?
  • Review the logistics of the food tasting: did the location work? Did you have enough staff? Did students and teachers know about the event? What changes could be made for next time?
  • How can you use future tasting events to engage the family or the community?
How will you share the results of the tasting with students, teachers, staff, parents?
Once you’ve reached some conclusions, write up your results to share with the principal, teachers, the cafeteria manager, and any partners at the school district. Find out if you can share a recap of the tasting with parents through the school newsletter.

Most importantly, build on your experience. Don’t forget to go back to your notes as you prepare for the next tasting!