Start Here When Creating New School Lunch Program Recipes

It’s a regular drill for school foodservice directors: creating new recipes for school lunch programs to keep their menus fresh and kids’ interested in eating school lunch. If you’re charged with that task and are not a Registered Dietitian, you may have come to dread this Rubik’s Cube-like exercise that school lunch program recipes and menu planning often becomes. Just when you get one day’s recipes nailed down, you struggle to incorporate them into a full week that conforms to USDA nutritional guidelines. You shuffle entrees and sides from one week to another, edit recipes to use ingredients with less fat or sodium and try again. No luck. More shuffling of menu days and more editing of recipes before you pull your hair out and walk away.

It doesn’t have to be that way. NutriStudents K-12 has taken the work out of creating recipes for school lunch programs and building USDA-compliant menu weeks. We offer more than 40 weeks of school lunch program recipes that have been tested, tried and enthusiastically approved by kids. With NutriStudents K-12, you don’t need to enter recipe information into nutritional analysis software. Simply pick the menu weeks that have school lunch program recipes that your students may like to craft your own custom menu rotation. With a few clicks, you have step-by-step recipes scaled to your student count, daily food production reports and weekly compliance reports for a full-year menu rotation.

If you do choose to create your own school lunch program recipes and menus, there are a few places to look for help:

Your Distributor: Your mainline food distributor is a great resource for you. Ask your distributor what’s trending in school meals and what new products manufacturers have introduced for the K-12 market. With the USDA nutritional guidelines in effect for several years now, manufacturers have a large selection of tailored products and recipes for school lunch programs, which has simplified menu planning for many districts.

The Child Nutrition Recipe Box, from the Institute for Child Nutrition, provides standardized recipes for school lunch programs and child nutrition programs. The recipes include options for every meal and incorporate all the required vegetable subgroups for the National School Lunch Program. It’s a good option for plugging in a new recipe into your rotation but it doesn’t take the work out of compiling a USDA-compliant menu week.

Food Management Magazine regularly shares the latest trends in healthy school lunch program recipes. The online slideshows could inspire you to create fresh, new recipes your students will love. The chicken sandwich war story highlights several districts’ refresh of the chicken sandwich to rival those at Chick-Fil-A, Popeye’s and other establishments.

Food Management’s best K-12 school lunch recipes in America, which include beef tostada, Asian quinoa power bowl and yakisoba with chicken and vegetables, reveal cultural and regional influences that may enhance your program. Power bowls are one of the latest trends for U.S. cuisine and are easily adaptable for recipes for USDA school lunch programs. Districts serving large Asian-American populations have ventured into sushi, Pad Thai, Bibimbap. Your student population and regional influences can guide your recipe creations while coloring outside the lines can result in new student favorites and broader taste preferences. If you naturally gravitate to potatoes, give grits a try. Or swap a dinner roll with cornbread. Our Sloppy Joe Mac recipe puts a fresh twist on an old favorite by replacing the sloppy joe bun with macaroni. A quick change up might be all a tired recipe needs.

NutriStudents K-12 Fresh Bites Blog: There are several free school lunch program recipes available on our Fresh Bites blog. You never know what we might highlight next in our “Make This” feature, like the recipe below for Chicken Fajita Spaghetti.


Take the work out of creating school lunch program recipes and USDA-compliant menu weeks.


Schedule a demonstration of NutriStudents K-12 today.


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Download the recipe, nutritional data and accompanying compliance reports, including daily FPRs and our digitally editable FPR.

Student Count 100
K-8 Serving Size: 1/2 cup spaghetti noodles with one #10 scoop of chicken


Marinated Fajita Chicken
Select One:
12.5 LB Chicken Fajita - Tyson 6922-0928
17 LB Chicken Fajita Strip - USDA 100117

¼ Cup + 1 Tbsp Oil Soybean (Chef’s Pride 54107 OR USDA 100442)
2-½ cup + 1 tsp Juice Lemon (Generic 904476 OR Generic 904410)
1/8 Cup + 1 Tsp Paprika Ground – Generic 904109
1/8 Cup + 1 Tsp Lemon Pepper 904113
1/8 Cup + 1 Tsp Salt Kosher – Generic 904131

Spaghetti Noodles
6.25 LB Noodle Spaghetti Whole Wheat (USDA 100427 OR ZERGA 8030)


Marinated Fajita Chicken
Cooking method: standard oven: 4” deep full hotel pan

1. Place thawed chicken into the pan.
2. Add spices, oil & juice and mix well.
3. Wrap pan with plastic wrap & tinfoil.

HACCP: Keep cooled below 41° until ready to cook.

4. Preheat oven to 325° (f using a convection oven, decrease temp by 25° to 50°). Heat until entrée reaches 165° or above, hold above 135° until end of service.

Spaghetti Noodles
Cooking method: stove top

1. Bring water to a rolling boil.
2. Fully submerge noodles in water.
3. Heat until the noodles are al dente.
4. Drain water & place into pan.
5. Wrap pan with plastic wrap.

Service: Serve each student a 1/2 cup of noodles with one #10 scoop of chicken.

Creditable Products:

Tyson 6922-0928 1.875 oz each, credits as 1.5 meat/meat alternative
USDA 100117 2.55 oz each, credits as 1.5 meat/meat alternative
USDA 100427 1oz, credits as 1 whole grain rich equivalents
ZERGA 8030-000 1 oz, credits as 1 whole grain rich equivalents