Culinary Trends in School Nutrition

As School Nutrition Program regulations have evolved over the past few years, school nutrition directors are taking innovative approaches to culinary trends to enhance the appeal of healthy foods to students to improve participation.

Explore K-12 culinary trends, food presentation techniques and flavor profiles with student appeal to enhance school meals and encourage increased participation with JSI’s new workshop, Infusing Flavor and Flair in School Meals. The workshop is being offered at all five SNA of MA chapter meetings.

  1. Themed meal stations provide options, allowing students a greater degree of meal customization. Some examples that schools are offering include yogurt bars, pasta bars, burrito stations, salad bars, Asian noodle bars, deli stations, and mac and cheese bars.
    Burrito Bar at Bigelow Middle School, Newton, MA.

    Burrito Bar at Bigelow Middle School, Newton, MA

    Deli Bar at Tigard-Tualatin School District, Tigard, OR.

    Deli Bar at Tigard-Tualatin School District, Tigard, OR

  2. Fruit displays are attention grabbing and encourage students to choose a fruit component. Improve the knife handling skills of your school nutrition staff with JSI’s hands-on Workshop to Go Knife Skills: Be a Cut Above the Rest! This workshop teaches different types of cuts, blade sharpening skills, garnishing techniques, and safety precautions.
    Hartnett Middle School, Blackstone, MA.

    Hartnett Middle School, Blackstone, MA

    fruit display 2

    Meigs Middle School, Shalimar, FL

    Quaker Valley Schools Sewickley, PA

    Quaker Valley Schools Sewickley, PA

  3. Meat alternate entrees are gaining popularity as a cost effective and sustainable school meal. Many schools have joined the worldwide Meatless Mondays Movement and are offering students meat alternate entrées every Monday to encourage more sustainable food choices. JSI’s Back to Basics: Meat Alternates Workshop to Go can provide you and your team ideas on how to serve more beans, legumes, yogurt, eggs and other meat alternates that look good and taste great. This hands-on culinary class demonstrates easy cooking techniques for meat alternates that you will be proud to serve.

    Fiesta Burrito Bowl Coppell ISD, TX

    Fiesta Burrito Bowl Coppell ISD, TX

  4. Flavor stations have been implemented in many lunchrooms. Flavor stations are simple, stations or carts containing various spices and condiments that allow students to add their individual palette-pleasing flavors to their meals such as hot sauce, red pepper flakes, basil, and garlic and herb seasoning.
    Flavor station in Billerica, MA

    Flavor station in Billerica, MA

    Flavor station in Decorah, IA

    Flavor station in Decorah, IA

  5. Scratch and speed scratch cooking methods have regained popularity in school nutrition programs as regulations have gotten stricter. Scratch and speed scratch cooking allows school nutrition programs to make ingredient substitutions in recipes that would otherwise not meet the standards while also cutting food costs. JSI’s Back to Basics Workshops to Go are a series of 3-hour culinary trainings developed for school nutrition staff to expand culinary skills and promote healthier, made from scratch and speed scratch, menu options to meet the meal pattern requirements. Scratch cooking recipes and menus for school nutrition programs can be found on the Recipe page of the JSI Resource Center. JSI’s Recipe Tool can be used to analyze snack recipes made at your school to determine if they meet both the state and federal nutrition standards for snacks.

Image credit: The images used in this post were found on the School Meals that Rock Pinterest page.

Farm to School –Supporting Local Agriculture

apples2Offering locally grown foods in your school nutrition program can help encourage students to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, increase meal participation, decrease waste while supporting the local agricultural economy and reduce the carbon footprint of the community!

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) serves as a national networking program focused on facilitating relationships between local farms and communities seeking locally sourced food. Additionally, NFSN helps bring food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools. Since its inception in the late 1990s, participation has grown tremendously. The USDA Farm to School Census indicates that schools across the country invested more than half a billion dollars in local foods in the 2013-2014 school year with more than 42,000 schools involved in farm to school activities.

2016 USDA Farm to School Grants were awarded to four organizations in Massachusetts for training, implementation, and support service including Massachusetts Farm to School Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger in Amherst, Quincy Public Schools, Somerville Public Schools, and The Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester. Congratulations to all recipients!

The Massachusetts Farm to School Project is the local branch of the NFSN that provides individual assistance to school cafeterias and other institutional food service operations across the state. The MA Farm to School Project also works to promote local food and agriculture education for students and through their Harvest of the Month campaign they are inspiring healthy food choices by encouraging schools to increase student exposure to Massachusetts’ seasonal foods.

“The Massachusetts Farm to School Project seeks to increase access to healthy, locally grown food in schools and other institutions for the good of our children, our farms and our communities.”

MA Farm to School will join a panel in one of the sessions at the upcoming Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit scheduled for May 24th and 25th, 2016! Be sure to visit JSI’s Resource Center for more Farm to School resources.

Make Your Lunchroom Smarter with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement!

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement is a research-baseoranges-150x150d initiative focused on creating sustainable lunchrooms that help guide students to make smarter choices. The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement was established at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program and is funded by the USDA ERS/FNS. JSI has collaborated with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement since 2012. In association with a Team Nutrition Grant, JSI has partnered with Smarter Lunchrooms to bring relevant professional development resources and technical assistance to fifty schools in Massachusetts since 2014, and the initiative will continue through June of 2016!

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health offered a Wellness Initiative for Student Success training opportunity. For this initiative School Wellness Teams utilized the School Health Index, the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard, and the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP). Once the program is completed this year, the participating schools in MA will have the tools to apply for the HealthierUS School Challenge and Let’s Move Active Schools recognition, and are encouraged to sign up to become a USDA Team Nutrition School!

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement provides an effective set of best practices meant to create an environment that encourages students to make healthful choices. The best practices listed below are easy, and inexpensive or free proven methods of increasing the number of students who make healthy choices in five key areas.

  1. Increase the number of students that select fruit –use signage and verbal prompts to attract attention to fruit and encourage students to take some.
  2. Increase the number of students that select targeted entrée –display creative age-targeted food item names on a poster or menu board outside the cafeteria.
  3. Increase the number of students that select vegetables –create a SNAC (Student Nutrition Action Committee) of students responsible for the naming of and creating signage for veggies.
  4. Increase the number of students that select reimbursable meals –create a health-items-only convenience line stocked with fruits, vegetables, premade sandwiches and salads and lowest-fat/lowest-sodium entrée items.
  5. Increase the number of students that select white milk –white milk should account for at least 1/3 of beverage options displayed in each cooler.

Additionally, you can find many useful links to Smarter Lunchrooms resources in JSI’s Smarter Lunchrooms category in the Resource Center.