“Mmmm this is the best cheese I’ve ever had!”
“Look, there’s chicken, and ham, AND cheese AND bread!!”
“Oh yeah, this gets a thumbs up!… no, a double thumbs up!!”
These were just some of the reactions I overheard during a Kids Cafe Focus Group I had the opportunity to attend last Wednesday, May 31st at Goldenrod Recreation Center.
Second Harvest Food Bank’s Kids Cafe is an after-school meal service program that provides food for needy children in Orange, Seminole and Osceola Counties, providing quick access to meals at the end of the school day. Kids Cafe Focus Groups help the food bank’s chefs hone in on, not only the most nutritious food they can distribute to kids in our community, but what kids enjoy most as well.
At this particular Kids Cafe Focus Group, about 40 children between the ages of 7 and 12 were given samples of two different menu items: a chicken cordon bleu sandwich on whole wheat bread, and a chicken parmesan sandwich, also on whole wheat bread. After sampling both items, the kids had an opportunity to make their voice heard using emojis – a happy face if they liked it, a sad face if they did not.
I expected the chicken parmesan sandwich to be the crowd favorite (who doesn’t love tomato sauce?!), but to my surprise, almost all of the kids preferred the chicken cordon bleu! I asked a few of the kids why their preferred choice was the chicken cordon bleu, and almost every single one said the chicken and cheese were so good together they didn’t need the sauce on the other sandwich because it hid that delicious cheesy chicken combo. So, there you have it! Chicken Cordon Bleu it is.
After the Focus Group, I had an opportunity to chat with Second Harvest’s Childhood Hunger Program Coordinator, Deaundra Rodriguez, who helped me better understand what Kids Cafe Focus Groups aim to accomplish and how the menus are implemented.
M: How many focus groups does Second Harvest hold, and why are they so important?
D: We try to hold as many focus groups as we can with our Kid’s Cafe to receive feedback from the children. It’s important to get the children involved in the choices in hopes they’ll enjoy the food as well as knowing they got to vote for an item to put on the menu.
M: How do you choose the menu for the focus groups?
D: I sat down with Chef Rob and we thought of items we’ve not given a try and were able to come up with some ideas. I asked our Director Nancy if she had any ideas as well as Chef Charlie who made the meals and helped at each focus group.
M: What kind of nutrition guidelines does Second Harvest Food Bank follow when planning the meals for the Kids’ Cafes?
D: We follow the guidelines of the Food and Nutrition Service set by USDA. We must make sure the children receive the proper nutrition of the five food groups: 8 oz dairy, 2 oz meat, 2 oz grain, 4 oz vegetable, and 2 oz fruit. Our menu must get approval by the State before we are able to use it to assure we’ve followed all guidelines.
Finding nutritious food that kids also love is not an easy task, but fortunately, Second Harvest has incredible chefs and a nutrition team that is dedicated to ensuring that children in need in our community are receiving the proper nutrition they deserve – and enjoy!
Thank you to Deaundra and Goldenrod Recreation Center for inviting me to join and experience a Kids’ Cafe Focus Group – I can’t wait to see all the new menus that will continue to be rolled out, knowing they’re all kid’s choice!
For more information on our Kids Cafes, please visit www.feedhopenow.org/how_kids_cafe.