Valuable Feedback Gained Through Taste Testing

Did you know that every entree on CKC Good Food's menus are taste tested multiple times by people of all ages? Annual taste-testing sessions with scholars and staff members at our client schools provide us valuable feedback on items under consideration for our menus.

Recently, Seven Hills Preparatory Academy, a public charter school with sites in both Richfield and Bloomington, held one such taste-testing session with 18 scholars in grades 6-8. Lunch Coordinator and SPED Administrative Assistant Dayna Trenary and Nancy Jiang, a Graduate Research Assistant from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, coordinated the logistics and evaluation form for the session, which was led by our CEO, Founder and Executive Chef Nancy Close.

Trenary recruited students for this first-time event by posting flyers at school, and got the word out in an advisory meeting that only a limited number of students could participate in the upcoming taste test. Students expressed interest on a sign-up sheet in the lunch room and Trenary drew names to choose who would participate. All students were told that they need to love food, be objective and contribute concise feedback.

The day of the event, Trenary met with the students to review the evaluation form and explained some of the federal nutritional guidelines for school lunch.

"Our students took the event very seriously and felt a great sense of responsibility knowing they would be able to change something for the whole school," Trenary said. "Hot lunch is always an easy thing to complain about. The feedback I got from students was very positive."

Each student sampled 4 entree choices, with the favorites being Swedish meatballs and Taco Joe - both of which have already been added to the school's lunch menus for March.

"The middle schoolers concentrated on tasting every dish thoroughly," Jiang said. "They took it very seriously. During the evaluation process, I noticed two menu items that performed very well across the focus group, and one menu item that was somewhat polarizing - they either loved it or hated it."

Custom-Designed Evaluation Form

As she pursues her master's degree in public health and her Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credentials, Jiang works on school nutrition-related projects in the community. She has been assisting SHPA since November 2019. While Trenary recruited students, Jiang consulted with dietitians experienced in running successful taste tests and then created an age-appropriate, easy-to-use evaluation form that would help gather constructive and objective feedback from the students. The form included questions from CKC on each menu item, with a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions that would help CKC and Trenary when making decisions about new menu items.

The evaluation form performed adequately when it was put to use by students. Some questions were skipped and other questions were not answered thoroughly. But overall, the responses provided enough data on which new menu item produced the most positive result.

Jiang tabulated the results in Microsoft Excel, converting the “happy,” “meh,” and “sad” responses into a numerical 3-point scale and averaged, and the “yes/no” questions were counted and averaged. The open-ended responses provided greater context as to what the students liked and/or disliked specifically, in their own words.

If she were to use the form for future taste tests with middle schoolers, Jiang would use a 5-point scale instead of the 3-point scale to assess the students' opinions of items. She would also consider asking fewer open-ended questions, keeping the form mostly quantitative, as students may have a hard time articulating well what in particular they liked or disliked about an item. Plus the qualitative questions simply take longer to answer.

"From this project from start to finish, I learned that communication is very important," Jiang said. "Preparing the middle schoolers before the actual taste test event helped immensely because they knew their role, what to expect and the impact that they are making. Overall, I gained a wealth of knowledge in how to conduct a successful taste-test event."

Overall, the event was a positive experience for Seven Hills Prep Academy and one they will repeat. "Nancy from CKC did a great job and everything was set up so professionally," Trenary said. "We will definitely do this again yearly."


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