Happy Turkey Day From School Cafeterias Nationwide

Thanksgiving is a celebration of family, friends and food! The joy of Thanksgiving is shared in school cafeterias across the country, where putting a heathy spin on traditional holiday fare and gathering with visiting family members and school friends welcomes all students. Elementary school students from Clarksville Community Schools (IN) to Cherokee County Schools (GA) to Milford Schools (OH) were all smiles at their Thanksgiving Day lunches, celebrating with their best buddies by their side!

Just like home cooked meals, these school lunches often feature holiday staples like turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and other traditional Thanksgiving foods. Schools, however, have the added challenge of fitting all of those delicious meal components into USDA school meal guidelines. To do this, they must to get extra creative with their menu building.

Turkey is served in a variety of ways. It can be pulled into strips of meat and served with gravy and stuffing, like in White County School District (GA) and Belgrade Middle School (MT) or it can be served in traditional whole slices, like Eubanks Intermediate School (TX)Keller Intermediate School District (TX) and Biddeford Primary School (ME).


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Following the guidelines of more whole grains, lower sodium, less sugar and more fruits and vegetables, schools offer whole grain biscuits and rolls, paired with low sodium turkey or ham, with a tasty gravy. For sides, they often choose different string bean recipes, along with some Brussel sprouts or sautéed spinach. For dessert, many schools opt for healthier versions of holiday favorites, menus have featured caramelized diced squash, low-sugar applesauce, whole grain apple crisp and even pumpkin tarts. Following school meal guidelines allows students to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving feast, but in a much healthier way.

Some schools host school-wide Thanksgiving celebrations, where parents and grandparents are invited to share in the meal with their children. Siblings from other schools in the district are sometimes invited to join as well. Parents post photos of their children’s lunch on social media, spending the day with their child, and their friends and family. It was wonderful to see so many empty trays from parents – hopefully they enjoyed the meal just as much as their smiling kids! Moms and dads visited their children to share in this special meal, everywhere from Albuquerque Public Schools (NM) to Clayton Elementary School (GA).

Cafeterias, like at Bridle Ridge Elementary School in Raymour (MO) and Mesita Elementary School (TX), are decorated with balloons, streamers, table clothes and other fall décor. Some schools require a larger space, sometimes turning their gymnasium into a banquet hall, like South Decatur Elementary School (IN), or feast on their yummy meal in the hallway, like at McKinley Elementary School (IA). Some cafeteria staff dress up for the holiday, wearing crazy hats and outfits, like Loudoun County Public Schools (VA). Other school food service professionals create beautiful signs and holiday bulletin boards to get the students into the Thanksgiving spirit, like the fall tree made of students’ handprints at Finch Elementary School in McKinney (TX)!

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