School foodservice directors are always on the hunt for National School Lunch Program menu ideas. With 30 years of experience in school foodservice, NutriStudents K-12 has provided many professionals like you with school lunch program menu ideas that have consistently led to increased participation, fewer complaints and happy students (and business managers). Allow us to share a few…
We know creating USDA-compliant menu weeks can be complicated with the calorie, fat and sodium restrictions and the various vegetable subgroups. But of all the school lunch program menu ideas that pays off, it’s this one: offer an extensive rotation of menu weeks. Three, five and even 10 weeks may not be enough to combat menu fatigue. Students will get bored before winter break and stop eating school lunch or start throwing away more food. That’s why we are thrilled to offer a full 40+ week rotation for each age group within the K-12 nutritional guidelines.
Your menus likely already include student favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. To expand your rotation, look to food trends to guide you as to what students may enjoy. Think street tacos, or one of our most popular entrees, a walking taco. Hamburgers of a wide variety appear on restaurant menus everywhere. Tap into that trend by serving more than plain hamburgers and cheeseburgers. For example, our menu weeks include a Garden Burger, a Ranch Mozzarella Burger and a Cowboy Cheddar Burger. Just a little spin makes a traditional favorite even more appealing.
As student populations grow more diverse, so too can your school lunch program menus. General Tso’s Chicken, Creamy Chicken Sabzi, Mongolian Meatballs, Beef Pad Thai, BBQ Chicken Carnitas Sandwich and Beef Pho are just a few of the more culturally diverse entrees on our menus today. Regional influences such as Tex-Mex and Cajun are also school lunch menu ideas worth considering.
Breakfast entrees have a place on your school lunch program menus as well. Many manufacturers now offer heat-and-serve products to simplify breakfast-for-lunch entrees such as Pancake on a Stick, French Toast Sticks and Cheese Omelets.
Students like to be in control of what they eat. If your K-8 National School Lunch Program is not already Offer versus Serve, we recommend you consider it to help reduce your plate waste. You may need to educate your service and POS staff as well as students as to what constitutes a reimbursable meal, but the learning curve is manageable and worth the effort. Students will appreciate being asked, rather than forced, to take foods they find disagreeable.
If your cooking and serving facilities will accommodate multiple service lines, we encourage you to offer at least two choices for main entrees and planned sides. Choices build participation.
Fruit and vegetable bars (salad bars) are a great way to introduce students to a wide range of produce while giving them control over what they eat. It also helps ensure they take the required amounts of fruits and vegetables to meet the criteria for a reimbursable meal. Your smart snack/a la carte program also helps introduce choice and variety for students and can help increase your school lunch program’s revenues.
The last school lunch program menu idea we offer is to involve students in the creation of your menus. All NutriStudents K-12 entrees are taste-tested by students prior to them being added to our menus. Sometimes we’re surprised by what our evaluators like and don’t like. Even after all these years in school foodservice, we can’t predict with 100% accuracy what foods kids will like best.
You can also engage students in your school lunch program menus by inviting them to compete in a recipe contest or by providing recipes for them to make at home with their parents. Creating meals presents great learning opportunities for kids and draws their interest in the meals served at school.
These are just a few school lunch program menu ideas to help you make your district’s program better than ever. Do you have school lunch program menu ideas that could benefit others? Share them with us on Facebook and Twitter.
If creating new menus and complying with USDA guidelines are daunting you, NutriStudents K-12 can help you operate a student-pleasing foodservice program more simply and efficiently. Schedule a demonstration today.