What’s on the menu in the new school year?

The start of the new school year is quickly approaching. School nutrition professionals from across the country recently attended the nation’s largest school food show to bring new ideas to student menus. Customizable meals is a trend many students will see when they head back to the cafeteria.

Customizable bowls allow students to build their lunch by adding preferred proteins, grains and vegetables from a variety of offerings. Trends in school meal bowls coming to cafeterias include Asian and Latin inspired flavors with seasonings and add-ons for students to choose from.

Another trend in cafeterias is offering salad in a cup. Offering such as quinoa with turkey bacon, cheese or chopped turkey provide a healthy, balanced meal on the go with grain, protein and vegetables. Students just shake up the ingredients after adding their choice of dressing.

Schools participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs have been reducing the amount of salt in meals by offering lower sodium versions of foods and flavoring foods with spices and herbs. Salt-free seasonings offer students the ability to spice up their meal without adding the sodium.

The food show gave school meal planners ideas for individually packaging fruits and vegetables to serve as grab and go options. With equipment to help schools decrease the time it takes to slice fresh fruits and vegetables, schools are turning to local produce as a way to overcome supply chain challenges.

Many insights and take-always have been gained since schools shut down in March of 2020 for emergency feeding. Gwinnett County Public Schools (GA) nutrition professionals have found grab-and-go a more integral part of everyday food service. At the show, they were looking for more individually packaged food as well as sturdy containers that allow food to be reheated in individual portions.

Being environmentally conscious is an important factor to consider, particularly with the increase in individually packaged foods. Schools were looking at biodegradable trays, utensils and packaging to use for breakfast and lunch.

“We were looking for a container for our elementary school sized yogurt parfaits,” said LaShawn Bray, Supervisor II, Hesperia USD (CA). “We also were looking at new egg options and other breakfast ideas to increase participation in our breakfast program.”

With the expiration of federal pandemic nutrition waivers, the ability for schools to offer all students free meals at school has ended. It is important for families to fill out an application to determine if they are eligible for free or reduced price meals. School district nutrition program websites provide details for applying for benefits and meal prices.

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