Quick pivots in a pinch: How substitutions can save the day in K-12 operations

Amid budgetary concerns, labor challenges and supply chain issues, many foodservice operators have been working overtime to find ways to streamline their kitchen operations. From automating tasks to trimming the number of menu items to choosing versatile ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes, operators have gotten more creative and resourceful than ever. One common hurdle is the last minute unavailability of ingredients and having to pivot quickly to find suitable substitutions. Here are some ideas on how you can make the most out of supply chain issues with some simple substitutions.

Cheese sauce substitutes

Cheese Cups are a popular menu item to pair with nachos, soft pretzels or veggies for dipping and can be part of a complete meal—one 3-ounce cup  = 1M/MA.  Cheese sauce is also a crowd pleaser that helps drive student participation. With to-go items in-demand, if operators find themselves in a bind and their favorite Cheese Cups are unavailable, bulk cheese sauces can serve as a great substitute. With the help of a #12 scoop, operators can easily portion out the same 3-ounce 1M/MA for the menu. What’s more, Land O Lakes® bulk cheese sauces, like the brand’s single-serving counterparts , are shelf stable and one bag of bulk cheese sauce has has 35 M/MA (or 17 2 M/MA  portions which are required for summer meals).

Additionally, a substitution for bulk cheese sauce, if the need arises, is to use Land O Lakes® American Cheese Slices or shreds. Simply by combining warm milk and our American cheese your kitchen can create a speed-scratch sauce for the same menu items filling the same M/MA requirements.

Benefits of bundling

Cheese sticks and string cheese are two convenient products for breakfast, grab-and-go or Smart Snacks. But in the event that availability is an issue, try substituting Land O Lakes® Mild Cheddar Cracker Cuts or Cheese Cubes. They are easy to portion and fun for students to eat. Plus, it not only solves the problem of availability but can also be an upgrade. Rather than offering a standalone cheese stick, operators can bundle Cheese Cracker Cuts or Cheese Cubes (M/MA), a grain, fruits, veggies and milk to create a Bento-style box, which can be claimed for reimbursement as a complete meal versus cheese sticks alone.

Convenience and quality

Macaroni and cheese is a known crowd-pleaser on foodservice menus. If the usual mac and cheese can’t be obtained, Land O Lakes® has multiple options that can work to help operators out in a pinch. All prepared mac and cheese products from Land O Lakes® have the same storage, heating instructions and shelf life—the main difference among the products is the nutritional breakdown. As mentioned above, using Land O Lakes® American slices or shreds in a speed-scratch sauce over pasta is one way to create craveable comfort. Or if you are looking for a product to heat and serve, look to Land O Lakes® for options like 25% Reduced Sodium and 50% Reduced Fat Macaroni and Cheese with Whole Grain Noodles or Reduced Fat Macaroni and Cheese with Whole Grain Noodles. Finally, using Land O’Lakes® shelf stable bulk cheese sauces in a one-step mac and cheese is another quick and easy option for a substitution in a snap.

Current market challenges—including supply chain disruptions, labor challenges and budgetary concerns driving higher prices—call for turnkey solutions and a low-labor menu. One brand that can help operators come out on top is Land O Lakes®. To learn more about the variety of products available for K-12 foodservice needs, visit

This post is sponsored by Land O'Lakes Foodservice