31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Celebrating the Season

Yesterday’s focus on pizza made us think of Elf on the Shelf at school. What’s the connection you ask? It’s the dedicated and creative folks at Billerica (MA) Public Schools Nutrition Services, headed up by April M. Laskey, SNS, Director of School Nutrition and Dina Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator. Yesterday Jimmy the Kitchen Elf, from the Kennedy Elementary School enjoyed pizza, milk, yummy salad and an apple with his reindeer friend. What a fun way to connect school meals to seasonal fun that students may also be doing at home.

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves were showing up all over Billerica Nutrition Services this week. On Thursday, as part of Massachusetts Harvest of the Month and BPS Taste it Thursday even the Elf on the Shelf got his yummy roasted carrot ‘fries.’

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Some of Billerica’s everyday ingredients look positively festive. This lovely Kale Garbanzo Bean Salad is simply dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This would look fabulous on a holiday cafeteria line.

Kale Chickpea Salad

Kale Chickpea Salad

Last December, I had the great pleasure of visiting April and Dina – and eating lunch at Frederick J. Dutile Elementary School. I know it was a special occasion – and, I also know that they regularly make colorful appealing vegetable trays like this for their customers (who really dug into this one!).

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Even the logo for Billerica Schools Nutrition Services is bright and festive! Be sure and follow this dedicate team of school nutrition professionals on Facebook. Happy holidays!

Billerica logo2

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (6 of 6)

This is our sixth post about the key elements of taking school food photos that ROCK. We’ve covered Background, Quality, People, Lighting and Contrast. Our goal has been – one step at a time – to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take some great PHOTOS of your employees, your customers and your food.

STEP #6. FOCUS. The final element is, in fact, the most important. You can have a beautiful background, high quality food, adorable children, proper lighting and gorgeous contrasting colors – but if your photo is not in focus, viewers will not get your message. The most important question is: Do you know how to FOCUS your Smartphone (or camera)? If you don’t, learn right now. To find instructions, search the model of your phone or camera and “how to focus” online. If you have an iPhone, the answer is simple: Tap the screen on the area that you want to be in focus. The phone will focus and adjust to the lighting at the same time.

THE GREAT: This photo from Sitka, Alaska, has it all. The blue tray allows the lunch to shine, even though it is not truly colorful. The meal is simple, but obviously good quality, especially when you learn the tacos are made with local fish. The student customer is adorable and clearly enjoying her lunch. There’s good contrast on the tray, nice lighting and the focus is excellent. Thanks to Sitka Conservation Society for sharing the tasty photo and their new Guide to Serving Local Fish in Schools.

Boat-to-school - AKA local fish - is popular in Sitka, Alaska

Boat-to-school – AKA local fish – is popular in Sitka, Alaska

THE MARGINAL: This photo is clearly not in focus. It does however show the rapid movement of lots of middle schoolers through a hallway and their use of a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart. If you decide to use a photo like this, it would be good to include another photo with better focus on the cart.

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

THE REAL NO-NOS: This is obviously a great lunch line with some great food options and a very proud employee. It just makes us wish that it was in focus.

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

HOT TIP: There are lots of other ways, including apps, to improve the performance of your photos on your phone. This article has 10 Tips For Taking Better Photos With Your Smartphone – and there are many more like it online. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice – and always focus your phone or camera! 

 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (5 of 6)

Have you ever thought about what really makes a food appealing in person or in a photo? It often has a lot to do with contrast. The contrasting colors of food on a tray (or plate) – and the contrast with a background color – can make a break or make the eye appeal of any meal. Setting up school food photos for maximum contrast – on color, shape and size – can make your customers eager to try your food or turn them off to your program before they even walk through the line. Today’s focus is on checking the CONTRAST of your photo before you click. We’re working hard to get you ready for great photos for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #5: CONTRAST. This is actually very easy once you get in the habit. Every time you set up a school food photo, look for contrast. Put complementary colors next to each other and look for different shapes and sizes of food on a tray or plate.

THE GREAT: This gorgeous line of trays from Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools Schools, Georgia, almost looks like a quilt of deliciousness. Notice the bright colors of green and orange  produce, along with the rich gold and brown tones of the roll, chicken and pasta. Notice that the alternating placement of the trays provides even more visual contrast. This Chefs Move to Schools lunch featured a local chef and local Georgia-grown vegetables – and probably tasted as good as it looks.

Chefs Move to School Lunch, Savannah-Chatham County Schools, Georgia

Chefs Move to School Lunch, Savannah-Chatham County Schools, Georgia

THE MARGINAL: This is actually an incredible meal – with house-made noodles for the casserole and some local produce. However, the photo does not do justice to the meal – because there is not enough contrast among the foods and with the tray (it could POP on a blue or read tray). It also suffers from florescent lighting – and from being slightly out of focus.

Wonderful meal, not enough contrast

Wonderful meal, not enough contrast

THE REAL NO-NOS: This is also a wonderful local meal – everything on the tray came from within the state where it was served. It was also incredibly popular with students in a Southern elementary school. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize grits in the white bowl and the collards do not provide enough contrast. Viewers also cannot tell what is the container next to the sweet potato – and there is too much white and beige overall.

Poor contrast, poor lighting, too many lids and problems with focus

Poor contrast, poor lighting, too many bowls and too much white-beige

HOT TIP: Steer away from white on white – and add color whenever you can. Look for ways to contrast color, shape and size. (And, of course, flavors and textures for the lucky customers who actually get to eat the food!) The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (4 of 6)

In today’s electronic world, great school food photos are not an option – they are essential. We are increasingly a visual society and your customers want to see your meals, not just read a few words on a monthly menu. Lucky for you, great photos are just a click away on your SmartPhone – IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. We’re covering one element each day to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #4: LIGHTING. One of the essential elements of a great food photo is good lighting, which can be difficult under the conditions in many school cafeterias and kitchens. Florescent lighting is harsh and tends to ‘wash out’ the natural colors of food. Professional food photographers agree – natural lightening is best for food, so the answer is simple: Take food to a window or skylight to get the lighting it deserves. Here are examples of GREAT, MARGINAL and REAL NO-NOS of lighting for trays shots.

THE GREAT: Even with a less than ideal tray color, this Starksboro, Vermont, lunch shows its true colors when taken under a cafeteria skylight. The house-made broccoli cheddar soup, Tuscan kale salad and hummus were outstanding – and the carrots were still locally-sourced from a farmer in March! Many thanks to Kathy Alexander, Laura Collaro, Mollie Silver and Doreen Bortz from ANESU Food Service Cooperative for a delicious dining experience in the their cafetorium.

Lovely, home-style lunch in Starksboro, Vermont.

Lovely, home-style lunch in Starksboro, Vermont.

THE MARGINAL: This is not a terrible photo and you certainly get the idea that this is nice salad bar with a variety of offerings. But with no adjustment for the florescent lighting, the colors are not very appetizing. The problems are compounded because the photo is also slightly out of focus. (Remember, salad bars are often on wheels so you can roll them over to a window for photographing.)

Washed out salad bar

Washed out colors in a beautiful salad bar

THE REAL NO-NOS: There are multiple problems with this photo but the lack of proper lighting makes everything worse. Notice too that the plastic wrap and other packaging reflects what light there is.

Not enough light, no natural light and plastic wrap make these items unappealing.

Not enough light, no natural light and plastic wrap make these items unappealing.

HOT TIP: If the lighting is not good where you want to take a school food photo, move the food toward natural light whenever possible. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (3 of 6)

Let’s be honest, great food photos of your school nutrition program are not an option – they are a necessity. With all the negative publicity about school meals, great photos are worth at least 1,000 words – and maybe 10,000+ views. Fortunately, fabulous photos are just a click away on your SmartPhone – IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. We’re covering an element-a-day to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #3: PEOPLE. Happy kids + appealing school food + smiling school nutrition professionals = WIN, WIN, WIN. Including people in your school food photos is a wonderful addition IF you always observes these ABCs: (A) You have permission to share the photo of the individual; (B) All food safety practices are observed; and (C) The meal and service are in compliance with USDA regulations.

THE GREAT: Candid shots of students do not have to be perfectly composed to be perfectly wonderful. This is terrific photo from Bethel School Nutrition Program in Eugene, Oregon – even though it is a little out of focus. There’s a gorgeous variety of food on the tray and the smile shows how difficult it can be for children to chew through all that food in a short school lunch period.

Back-to-School in Bethel, Oregon.

Back-to-School in Bethel, Oregon.

THE MARGINAL: We love this photo too – and the students are wearing gloves while they help to peel carrots from a nearby farm for processing in the school kitchen. We would not use it, because their hair is not pulled back in all cases and, more importantly, they are working outside. Perceived problems with food safety trump local food and happy students every day.

Outdoor location makes this marginal as a school nutrition photo.

Outdoor location makes this marginal as a school nutrition photo.

THE REAL NO-NOS: We really wanted to this photo to work because it showed local firefighters having breakfast with students during National School Breakfast Week – but we could not use it. Never, never post photos that are too dark and out of focus (stay tuned because we cover these topics next!)

Dark, out of focus photos just don't work.

Out of focus with poor lighting photos just don’t work.

HOT TIP: There is no need to show children’s faces in a photo. If you are worried about permission, just show their hands or the backs of their heads. And, ALWAYS remember, the best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (2 of 6)

In the wide world of social media, great photos of school meals are not an option – they are necessary for maintaining satisfied customers. Eye-catching photos are just a click away on your SmartPhone – IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. To get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th, we’re focusing on one element each day. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #2: QUALITY. Honestly, if you are not proud of the food quality in your program, do not take a photo of it. Always start with high quality products that are as fresh as possible. Like the mantra for food safety, when taking school food photos, make sure that hot food is hot and cold food is cold.

THE GREAT: The quality of this lasagna lunch from Windham-Raymond, Maine (RSU#14) is apparent before you learn the back story. The noodles and tomato sauce are made in the school kitchen with local grass-fed beef – and the basil, greens, apple and milk are all local (some from the school garden). Director Jeanne Reilly works with a part-time district chef and Chefs Move to Schools to plan, grow, prepare and serve extraordinary meals – and it shows!

Housemade Lasagna (including the noodles) with local greens, apple and milk

Housemade Lasagna (including the noodles) with local greens, apple and milk

THE MARGINAL: This grab-n-go chicken salad is a great concept and it has some wonderful fresh ingredients. Sadly, the wrinkled tomatoes detract from the freshness, as does the bruise near the apple stem. (This photo also has problems with lighting, which we will discuss soon!)

Wrinkled tomatoes ruin the entire presentation.

Wrinkled tomatoes ruin the overall quality of the presentation.

THE REAL NO-NOS: This might be a delicious meal and very popular in some schools. Unfortunately, the lack of fresh produce (even the apple looks tired) and the limited colors make it unappealing to the eye. White styrofoam trays themselves make it hard to take good photos and they are an environmental ‘hot button’ in some communities.

Lack of fresh produce and limited colors make quality questionable.

Lack of fresh produce and limited colors make quality questionable.

HOT TIP: Want to see the highest quality school meals and photos in action? Visit the School Meals That Rock PINTEREST page, where from Windham-Raymond, Maine (RSU#14), and Provo, Utah, Schools, both have boards.

And, remember best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (1 of 6)

In today’s electronic world, great school food photos are not an option – they are essential for promoting your program and marketing your meals. Fortunately fabulous photos are just a click away IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. We’re covering one element each day to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #1: BACKGROUND. Check natural backgrounds carefully – and create your own background when necessary. You’ve heard about the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s the GREAT, the MARGINAL and the REAL NO-NOS of backgrounds for trays shots.

THE GREAT: This blue tray makes an ideal background for food. No food is naturally this color and even the milk carton pops against this background. The dark metal table behind the tray literally disappears and allows the food to be the ‘star.’ The photo is from Chef Chad Elliott, Decorah, Iowa, courtesy of Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.

Decorah, Iowa, Food Day 2013

Decorah, Iowa, Food Day 2013

THE MARGINAL: This bright yellow background is too ‘hot’ for the tray of food. It distracts attention from the food on the tray and washing out some colors entirely. It’s a nice meal, but hard to enjoy with the background distraction.

Yellow Background

Yellow Background is TOO HOT!!

THE REAL NO-NOS: Never use a tray with swirled or marbled colors. It’s almost impossible to make food look appetizing on this background – and lots of unfortunate terms are often used to describe such food.

If you have trays this color, do not use them for photos.

If you have trays this color, do not use them for photos.

HOT TIP: Purchase or borrow a solid color tray in a deep primary BLUE, TEALDARK GREEN or BRICK RED. Use that tray for all meal photos – and take lots of photos of your meals. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice.