Decking The Halls And Giving Thanks For School Food

Creating a warm and welcoming environment for students is part of a school nutrition professional’s duties. The holidays offer a fun opportunity for them to serve up nutrition with whimsical decorations, food art, holiday “dinner” trays or creative costumes.

Schools across the country make variations of holiday dinners for school lunches in November and December, often decking the halls of the cafeteria with festive decorations. But balancing school meal nutrition requirements with beloved holiday staples, like mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, can sometimes present a challenge.

Schools opt for whole grains and foods with less sugar and lower sodium to produce a healthier version of holiday favorites. Lauderdale County High School (AL) and Salisbury R-IV School District (MO) served up sliced turkey, while Tullahoma City Schools (TN)  created a variation on turkey and stuffing pot pie. Some schools choose ham as the main entree. Green beans, corn, biscuits, salads and homemade cranberry sauce are often also a staple on lunch trays during the holidays.

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School nutrition professionals also use cafeteria decorations and ornaments to help get students in the mood to celebrate various holidays, monthly themes and school events. Following Thanksgiving break, elves popped up in school kitchens in Texas, bringing holiday mischief to El Paso Independent School District and merriment to Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (TX).

In addition to preparing traditional holiday foods, schools serve fruits and vegetables in creative arrangements. Escambia County School District (FL) created a turkey out of watermelon and fruits skewers while Groton Public Schools (CT) used celery sticks as turkey tail feathers at one of their elementary schools. Bartlesville Public School District (OK) crafted a snowman from potatoes, and flower baskets from carved vegetables.

Walls and bulletin boards at schools were plastered with scenes of pilgrims, turkeys, fall leaves and other autumn decor when students enjoyed Thanksgiving feasts in school cafeterias or classrooms, complete with fun hats and themed table settings. Parents, family and friends are often invited to attend the celebrations with their students. For districts with diverse populations, like Skokie Schools (IL), this is often one of the first times many students and families try traditional Thanksgiving foods – an added benefit of bringing people together during the holiday season.

Students in Skokie School District (IL) enjoy their fall feast with construction paper turkey hats.

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