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4 versatile ingredients K-12 chefs are leaning on amid supply chain shortages

Chefs are using these ingredients to keep menus exciting for students as they continue to struggle with price increases and product availability.
Beans and rice
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As school nutrition programs continue to face rising costs and product shortages, chefs are coming up with creative ways to use the ingredients they have on hand.

At the School Nutrition Association’s School Nutrition Industry Conference held earlier this month in San Diego, K-12 chefs and directors shared their favorite items that can be cross-utilized.

Here are four ingredients they say they always try to have in the kitchen.  

1. Cheese sauce

At Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Operations Alyssia Wright is a big fan of buying versatile products in bulk to keep costs low.

“If you can buy in large quantities for your district or you can even buy large quantities for yourself and multiple districts and get it shipped in, you can get a cheaper price,” she says, noting that “one ingredient for multiple recipes will benefit you greatly.”

Cheese sauce has become a staple for the district and is used to make macaroni and cheese and other pasta dishes including a cheesy chicken pasta bake.

2. Quinoa

Jason Hull, foodservice director and executive chef at Marin County Day School in Corte Madera, Calif., says that he makes sure to always have quinoa in stock since it can be used in so many different ways.

“You can serve it hot, you can serve it cold, you can add it to the salad bar, and you can do all different kinds of flavor combinations,” he says.

3. Beans and rice

One of the most versatile pairings in a K-12 kitchen is beans and rice, says Executive Chef and School Nutrition Consultant Samantha Gasbarro, since they can be used as a meat alternative and are also found throughout different types of global cuisines.

“[Beans and rice] really go across all cultures,” she says. “We have really started to think differently about how to utilize them.”

4. Chicken and other animal proteins

San Diego Unified School District’s foodservices program specialist, Juan Zamorano, says that chicken can be used in endless ways on the menu.

“There’s no ingredient more versatile than chicken,” he says. “Chicken goes with almost anything.”

He adds that his team has also gotten more creative with using pork. The protein is finding its way onto the menu as carnitas, in sandwiches and more.

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