Menu Planning for More Vegetarian Options in Jefferson County Schools

A brave middle school student presented a need for more vegetarian options to the Jefferson County School Board in Kentucky. The plea, which Nutrition Service Center Manager Dan Ellnor said was “heartfelt and well researched,” made the district take a closer look at vegetarianism as a food service policy. Vegetarian options would not only increase the number of healthy, fresh options, but it would help entice students and staff who wouldn’t otherwise purchase school meals.

In the last five years, the number of students with dietary restrictions has drastically increased. The number of students who cannot consume pork has increased to the point that Jefferson County Schools (KY) no longer offer it on their menus. Strict vegetarian diets make up only about three to five percent of requests but vegetarian trends have gained interest due to environmental and health rationale.  The dietary choice has come into play more and more in schools, prompting the district’s Lean and Green Initiative.

That is chicken in it. However, we are working on a crunchy tofu recipe as well. That is an example of what Chef Byrd has been working on
New salad toppers have been included on the menu this month. For vegetarian options, this salad is offered with crispy tofu instead of grilled chicken.

“Many districts would smile and nod and move on,” he said. “Not the team at School and Community Nutrition Services. We put our Executive Chef Chris Byrd directly to work, meeting with [students] to develop possible entrées to add to the school lunch program.”

Daily vegetarian entrées include options like cheese quesadillas, all-vegetable side plates, the classic Peanut Butter & Jelly, as well as an extensive local produce program. Executive Chef Byrd, who came to the district just six months ago, has already transformed the menus and continues to research and test potential hot vegetarian entrées. Chef Byrd has created a wholegrain cornbread and new salad toppers, which be placed on menus this month.

Black bean burgers have become a quick favorite among students looking for hearty and filling vegetarian options.

“We have several recipes already in the pipeline for next year including a black bean burger and a sweet potato vegetarian chili,” said Ellnor. “We look forward to sampling these with students in the coming weeks and [determine if] they might be featured on a menu in the fall.”

Chef Byrd brings Farm to School experience, through his involvement with the Kentucky Department of Education and institutional experience from working with Aramark. He has visited more than 60 schools already, completed training with managers on utilizing herbs and spices to “kick” up the taste without adding salt, as well as offering weights and measures training to school foodservice staff.

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