School Cafeterias On Trend During National School Lunch Week

During National School Lunch Week 2019, school districts are featuring Instagram-worthy, healthy school menus that tout trends highlighted in School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) recent national report. The 2019 Trends Survey reveals cafeterias across the country are offering students more international foods, locally sourced ingredients, antibiotic free proteins, customizable meals, whole grain rich foods and grab-and-go options on menus.

Richmond County - NSLW Menu
Featured menu for Richmond County School System (GA) during NSLW 2019. Each day, a music-themed item was offered.


School menus are featuring ethnic flavors, with about half of districts reportedly adding new international dishes this school year including Indian, Chinese, Korean, Greek, Spanish and Mexican-inspired recipes. Quaker Valley School District (PA) created a delicious chicken lo mein bowl that rivals local restaurants. The classic Swedish meatball and mashed potatoes lunch keeps students in Bayfield School District (WI) warm and nourished. Georgetown Public Schools (MA) offer a popular grilled chicken teriyaki wrap that combines healthy whole grains, grilled chicken and fresh veggies with an Asian flair.


As consumers and parents look for clean label foods, school nutrition professionals are also looking to incorporate ingredients and menu items with fewer ingredients or additives. Last school year, about half of districts served cleaner label menu options, such as chicken, beef and pork raised without antibiotics, nitrates or fewer artificial colors and preservatives. Nearly all 91 percent of these districts are either considering or planning to expand clean label choices in the 2019-20 school year. Among districts that did not offer cleaner label options last school year, 45 percent are either considering or planning to do so this year. Loudoun County Public Schools (VA) work with local farmers to source their beef and lettuce for their hamburgers. Other districts, including Oakland Unified School District (CA), use antibiotic-free chicken for lunch options like their bbq drumsticks.

Today’s food savvy students expect a wide range of choices, and school cafeterias are delivering.  Nearly 85 percent of districts surveyed offer customizable menu options such as made-to-order salads, build-your-own taco bars, choose-your-own wing bars and flavor stations that allow students to add a variety of low or no sodium seasonings or sauces to their meals. Putnam County Schools (FL) have mastered the art of build-your-own bars for salads, wings, Asian rice dishes, pasta, sandwiches, tacos and more.

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Other trends include offering plant-based proteins, vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, more organic and scratch-made foods. Austin Independent School District (TX) offer their popular scratch-prepared hummus plate with veggies; a vegetarian scratch-cooked fritatta dish prepared with pasture-raised Vital Farms eggs, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella cheese; and a lentil vegan chili.

In July, updated whole grain regulations for school meals took effect, mandating that at least half of all grains offered must be whole grain rich. The 2019 Trends Report reveals over 90 percent of responding districts will exceed these federal whole grain requirements this school year. Students will continue to choose from options like whole grain rich pastas, noodles, tacos, dinner rolls, sandwich rolls and sliced bread, etc.

Italian sandwiches offered on whole grain rich subs at Queen Creek Unified School District (AZ).

SNA’s 2019 School Nutrition Trends Report is based on survey responses from 812 school districts nationwide. The survey was distributed in May/June 2019. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves more than 30 million children every school day. President John F. Kennedy created National School Lunch Week (NSLW) in 1962 to promote the importance of a healthy school lunch in a child’s life and the impact it has inside and outside of the classroom.

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