1. Broccoli cheese soup
The nutrition team at Wake County Public School System in Cary, N.C., wanted to add dishes that would encourage students to expand their palates, especially when it came to green vegetables. They came up with a broccoli cheese soup made with frozen broccoli, fresh shredded carrots, cheese sauce, shredded cheese and vegetable stock, which quickly became a favorite among students.
“We wanted students to think differently about broccoli,” says Jennifer Lawson, administrator for child nutrition services. “Oftentimes, students overlook green vegetables, but this recipe really changed that perception.”
2. Sweet potato and pumpkin hummus
At Beacon City School District in Beacon, N.Y., the nutrition team recently partnered with a chef to test new scratch-made dishes, thanks to a farm-to-school grant. One such menu item was a sweet potato and pumpkin hummus.
“The original recipe called for just sweet potatoes, but when we were preparing the trial run, we did not have enough sweet potatoes, so we roasted both the sweet potato and a small pumpkin and blended with lemon, chickpeas, and sesame tahini,” says Karen Pagano, director of food and nutrition education. The tweaked recipe was an instant hit, especially with the elementary students, who sometimes ask for it as a bean alternate, Pagano says. The dish is also featured on the district’s “top your own” salad bar.
3. Green Devil signature chili spaghetti
Dayton Independent School District in Dayton, Ky., introduced a new item inspired by Ohio’s Skyline Chili chain. The district’s homemade signature chili is served on whole-grain spaghetti, then garnished with sour cream and green onions and served with a cornbread muffin. Chef and Food Service Director Pamela Tramble-Johnson says the dish can also be made vegan by removing the beef and switching the stock.
Meatloaf is popular with all grade levels at Greenville County Schools in Greenville, S.C.
“As we communicated with students about the types of food they enjoy eating at home and would like to see on the school menus, homestyle dishes like meatloaf came up time and time again,” says Director of Food and Nutrition Services Joe Urban. “Incorporating student home-cooked favorites like meatloaf on our menu have driven student participation among all grade levels.”
The dish is made with Angus beef ground chuck, eggs, breadcrumbs, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, diced onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
5. Smoothie stop
Two smoothies were added to the high school menu at Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, Mass., after a student who won a grant wanted there to be a smoothie option at lunch.
“Throughout the year, we perfected the art of smoothie making and 'popped up' at all three high school lunches once a week,” says Food Service Director April Liles. “We offered whole grains, fruit, juice and milk to students so that it could be credited as a full meal. It was not only a new and exciting option for lunch, but a way to divert lines to a different part of the cafeteria.”
The two new smoothies were a strawberry-banana version made with low-fat milk, orange juice, low-fat vanilla yogurt and frozen strawberries and bananas, as well as a mango-pineapple sipper made with orange juice, low-fat vanilla yogurt, low-fat milk and frozen mango, pineapple and banana.
6. Szechuan chicken and rice bowl
When Wake County Public Schools’ grilled chicken breast wasn’t popular with students, the nutrition team came up with a Szechuan chicken and rice bowl as a replacement. Now a hit, the bowl includes Szechuan-seasoned grilled chicken, "fried" rice made with brown rice, mixed vegetables, scrambled eggs and seasonings.
8. Puerto Rican fricase de pollo
Puerto Rican fricase de pollo was one of the most popular dishes added to the menu this year at Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, Mass. The recipe came from a family in the district as part of Cambridge’s recipes from home program, which allows families to submit recipes from their cultural heritage.
“This chicken dish of Puerto Rican heritage was translated into a school recipe, modified for palatability and consistency, and taste tested across the district,” says Shennie Quintanilla, a registered dietitian for the district. “The students enjoy it!”
Often served with brown rice, the dish includes housemade sofrito (a blend of Spanish onion, green pepper, red pepper, cilantro, recao, garlic, pepper and salt), boneless chicken thighs, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and bay leaves.
9. Quick pickles
Housemade pickles are used as a topping for Beacon City Schools’ locally sourced New York burgers. The quick pickles are made with cucumbers, fresh garlic, dill, vinegar, salt, pepper and water. “The brine is lower in sodium than commercial pickles, and all age levels love them,” says Pagano.
10. Thanksgiving bowl
Thanksgiving takes place year-round at Pelham School District in Pelham, N.H. The district’s nutrition team was looking for an on-trend way to use up its commodity turkey roasts and came up with its popular Thanksgiving bowl. The dish is made with herb-roasted turkey, sage-and-garlic stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed corn, cinnamon-roasted butternut squash, cranberry sauce and savory gravy.