Local specialties take center stage in school lunches

From salmon skewers in Alaska to red chile beef enchiladas in New Mexico, local flavor is on the rise.

Teriyaki coho salmon skewers in Alaska. Red chile beef enchiladas in New Mexico. And Vietnamese pho soup in California.

Inspired by new nutrition rules, districts are now offering these and other meals in hopes of getting students to eat healthier by appealing to their taste buds. And rather than hiding the nutritious ingredients, schools are enthusiastically educating students about the health benefits of ingredients such as whole-grain breads and low-fat cheese.

Here are some examples of new dishes—and other strategies—districts are serving up so students will think of school meals as appetizing and healthy.

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Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

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