Menu best practices were plentiful at the School Nutrition Association’s virtual Annual National Conference held earlier this month. Check out five inspiring ideas from the event’s speakers and attendees.
1. Play up commodity items
To add variety to the menu but also keep costs down, the team at Minneapolis Public Schools in Minnesota tries to incorporate fresh spices and herbs into its commodity products as much as possible. This includes adding lemon, garlic and Italian parsley to commodity chicken strips to create Mediterranean-style chicken and adding garam masala, coriander, turmeric and cumin to tomato sauce for a tikka masala-inspired sauce.
2. Introduce new flavors early on
Minneapolis Public Schools also starts introducing elementary students to different spices and flavors right away through events like taste tests. That way, by the time they reach middle and high school, they are used to trying bold flavors.
4. Expand on student favorites
Throughout the pandemic, the nutrition team at Houston County Schools in Perry, Ga., noticed that students really enjoyed whenever a sandwich was on the menu. Building on that momentum, the team has decided to serve a different sandwich each Friday of this upcoming school year, such as a chicken club or a Mexican torta.
5. Create a menu advisory council
Before new menu items are served to students at Detroit Public Schools, they must first get approval from the district’s menu advisory council. The council meets once a month and is made up of students, teachers, parents, staff and other stakeholders.
During council meetings, district chefs serve samples of a potential menu addition and share a bit about it. If the council approves, the dish is then sampled at schools throughout the district to get student feedback and to determine whether it can be easily replicated at each of the district’s kitchens. If the menu item continues to do well, it's officially rolled out district-wide.
While testing is a long process, it allows the nutrition team to gain a lot of data and to be sure that the new dish will do well once it’s officially added to the menu, says Assistant Director of Culinary Services Kevin Frank.