How to Innovate in School Meal Programs
By Chef Garrett Berdan, RDN
Your school meal program customers are a mix of millennials and generation Z. Both groups expect quality and know what it looks like. They want food that is on-trend and customizable. And they want choice–at home, dining out and at school. So, here are some ideas to appeal to your students and fit within the scope of your operation.
Give students choice with a variety of fruits and vegetables to select from an “offering bar,” such as a salad bar or potato bar. Appeal to their sophisticated tastes by offering a composed salad of the day, like Chipotle Mashed Potatoes, along with appealing fresh vegetables and fresh, canned or dried fruit to help you meet your meal pattern requirements.
Popular fast food draws crowds all day because customers can customize their meals. Do the same in your cafeteria by implementing similar menu concepts with a choice of accompaniments. Try Baked Potato Nachos with a choice of two kinds of beans, taco seasoned beef, or zesty chicken, cheese, salsa and sour cream.
Your students know good food quality when they see it. The quality of cooked foods starts to go downhill the longer it is held hot. Always try to cook vegetables, French fries, and pizza as close to service time as possible. If you have enough staff, batch cooking is a great way to maintain quality because smaller amounts of food are cooked as it is needed on the line.
From time to time, find out where your students are eating when they are away from school. Are they grabbing something pre-made from a coffee shop or fast food restaurant on the weekend? Is there a deli or prepared food retailer in town? Go to these places and look at their grab-and-go case, read their menus, and ask the staff which items are popular among their age 10-18 customers. You could discover something that is really easy to replicate in your school kitchens.
Questions for Chef Garret? What would you like him to discuss in his next column? Please leave your questions, comments and suggestions below!