Twisted Queso Meatball Sub recipe that meets USDA school lunch regulations

 

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Tips for Creating USDA School Lunch Recipes

Bloggers and Instagrammers flood social media with eye-catching images of their latest recipe creations. One doesn’t have to look far for inspiration for tonight’s family dinner or special-occasion dessert.

If only school foodservice directors could have that luxury! Social media influencers don’t gravitate to creating USDA school lunch recipes. Could it be that the USDA school lunch regulations limit their creative license?

Creating USDA school lunch recipes, ones that kids will eat, can be challenging under the federal nutritional guidelines. These guidelines govern the nutritional value of school meals served by schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The guidelines are meant to encourage students to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain-rich foods each week. They also place a limit on the calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium in school meals. Even within these guidelines, delicious school lunch recipes are possible.

NutriStudents K-12 has mastered the creation of school lunch recipes that kids will eat and compiled them into 30-week rotations for every age group under the USDA school lunch regulations. The menus we offer our clients include tasty main course recipes like walking tacos, buffalo chicken sandwich, teriyaki chicken and queso meatball nachos, and inventive side dishes.

Each NutriStudents K-12 USDA school lunch recipe is developed by an executive chef. A registered dietitian then verifies that it complies with USDA school lunch regulations. Before a recipe is added to our menu rotation, both students and adults taste test the meals. Sometimes these taste tests give our executive chef ideas for refining the recipes to make them even better. Based on our experience, here are a few tips to consider when creating your own USDA school lunch recipes:

Incorporate Vegetables into Entrée Recipes

Because the USDA school lunch regulations require students to eat specified quantities of vegetables, we incorporate vegetables into our main course recipes in ways students will eat. For example, we include carrots in our curry gravy meatballs and add sweet bell peppers to our chicken fajita spaghetti. These additions also provide great touches of color that appeal to kids.

Consider Visual Presentation

The visual presentation of a lunch tray is vitally important to entice kids to eat. We’ve learned over the years that texture, color and even the size of vegetables can turn kids off if not exactly right. If your main entrée is turkey and gravy, consider complementing it with bright fruit and vegetables for eye-catching elements to excite students. The texture of “fuzzy” strawberries or waxy green beans may be off-putting to kids as well. We try to anticipate these objections when we are creating menus and rely on student feedback to help confirm our presentation.

Don’t Forget the Sides in Your Lunch Recipe

We also get creative with side dishes, such as the cowboy salad and the corn-errific salad, to help meet the USDA school lunch regulations for the vegetable sub groups. Even simple sauces can attract students’ interest in foods they may not otherwise. Students love our Chickaboom Sauce for dipping all kinds of foods.

Lean on Herbs and Spices

NutriStudents K-12 also makes generous use of herbs and spices to jazz up our USDA school lunch recipes without exceeding the USDA sodium limits or adding fat and calories. Our Albondigas Mexicanas (Mexican Meatballs), for example, gets dressed up with onion powder, garlic, cilantro, chili powder and a touch of cayenne. Simply adding fresh cilantro to rice or mashed potatoes gives a pop of color and a fresh taste.

Embellish Student Favorites for School Lunch

Food manufacturers have also gotten creative to help time-starved child nutrition professionals serve hundreds, if not thousands, of school lunches to students each day. Kid-friendly, heat-and-serve products that meet USDA school lunch regulations are plentiful today. Often, these are students’ favorite meals, such as corn dogs and chicken nuggets. While processed foods are generally not the first choice for feeding youth, the options are more healthful today than similar products on the market 10 or 15 years ago because of the current USDA school lunch regulations.

NutriStudents K-12 menus include many student favorites. To vary our menus and elevate these traditional standbys, we embellish manufacturers’ products. For example, chicken tenders are always popular with kids. We take them a step further with our Crunchy Chicken Tender Wrap. This USDA school lunch recipe features chicken tenders, shredded cheddar cheese and cabbage inside a whole grain tortilla. A side of our Ranch-a-boom sauce makes a great dip. Similarly, basic chicken nuggets are the foundation of our chicken chilaquiles, and popcorn chicken is elevated in our sesame popcorn chicken. Both entrees are big hits with kids.

Healthfulness of School Lunch versus Bagged Lunch

USDA school lunch recipes have improved dramatically since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect in 2012. Foodservice directors have worked hard to develop new recipes to please their kiddos. Even in schools where lunch may not have the ingenuity or freshness of a fast-casual restaurant, the meals are generally healthier than what students may bring from home.

A Virginia Tech University study comparing 750 school lunches with 560 packed lunches for preK and kindergarten students found that brown bag lunches were higher in calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar, and had less protein, sodium, fiber, calcium and vitamin A. The packed lunches observed by researchers tended to include more desserts and sugary drinks, and less fruits, vegetables and milk than school lunches.

If you’re searching for creative recipes to add to your school lunch menus, be sure to check our Fresh Bites blog. We frequently share USDA school lunch recipes there and provide downloadable, step-by-step instructions with nutritional details.  

 

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We'd Love to Answer Any Questions You Have!

Call toll-free: 844-204-2847 / Email: info@NutriStudentsK-12.com

Or you can Request information

Ask us about our money-back guarantee!*

*Must meet minimum-use requirements to be eligible.