Steal This Idea

4 stealable ideas shared during the SNA’s Annual National Conference

Check out these ways to tackle food waste, create allergen-friendly meals and more.
The nutrition team at IDEA Public Schools presenting at ANC
Members of the nutrition team at IDEA Public Schools present at this year's Annual National Conference. | Photo by Benita Gingerella

K-12 operators attending the School Nutrition Association’s 2023 Annual National Conference in Denver this week were quick to share tips and tricks that have worked at their districts. 

Here are four steal-worthy ideas shared during the event to take back to your operation. 

1. Make allergen-friendly dishes more inclusive

The nutrition team at IDEA Public Schools, a chain of charter schools based in Texas, has worked to incorporate “allergy-inclusive products” into its menus instead of ingredients free of specific allergens. This helps minimize the amount of product they need and makes things easier on staff. 

For example, instead of using a gluten-free pasta in its spaghetti and meatballs, the team decided to swap in a brown rice noodle. And the students have reportedly been on board.

“Students are really excited to eat it. They get to see that their tray looks just like their friends’ trays, which makes it exciting for all of us,” says Special Diets Manager Ashlea Robertson.

2. Turn leftover fruit salad into smoothies

Operators looking to reduce food waste can try this tip shared during a cooking demonstration led by Institute of Child Nutrition chefs Garrett Burden and Sharon Schaefer. The pair showed attendees how to make a red, white and blue fruit salad using blueberries, pears and strawberries. While the salad leftovers could just be served again as-is the next day, Schaefer mentioned they could also be used as smoothie ingredients. 

3. Partner with teachers and students to boost your decor

Taking the time to decorate the cafeteria walls and serving line goes a long way in making the cafeteria a fun place for students, Horry County Schools Cafeteria Manager Tory Gibson said during a session on Tuesday. For operators lacking the time or budget to dedicate to decorating, Gibson suggested they partner with other groups in the district, such as media center or graphic design students, who can assist in making and hanging decorations. Operators can also reach out to teachers and ask about reusing old classroom decorations that were destined for the trash.

4. Set up a student-run store 

At 27J Schools in Brighton, Colo., the nutrition team partnered with the district’s career and technical education (CTE) department to open a student-run store. The store sells Smart Snack-compliant drinks and snacks, and rakes in an average of $400 a day. The extra funds have allowed the nutrition team to add three new full-time employees. 


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