Classic comfort foods hold a special place in our hearts and elicit cravings that go beyond the need for nutrients alone. They evoke feelings of safety and affection, and when prepared with quality ingredients can even improve student performance.
Putting a new twist on the typical lunch options with the below ideas and implementation tips not only supports a successful school meal program, but also fosters healthy eating habits for life.
Pasta Perfected. Kids go nuts for noodle dishes. In fact, pasta is regarded as a favorite worldwide. Spaghetti (or “pisketti” as it’s sometimes known) is a great way to pack the cafeteria with school lunch eaters. It also provides a way to incorporate clean options. Plant-based substitutions like lentils or spiralized veggies, which are generally more cost effective, provide a healthy alternative to traditional carb centered meal.
Implementation Tip: Give students a variety of options to maximize the amount of participants in your school’s meal program. This might involve setting up an interactive pasta bar where students can add their own sauces and toppings.
World Market. Increased numbers of refugee families and internationally relocated students are diversifying the lunchroom, so it is smart to reflect these changes in your lunch offerings. Try giving a nod to different cultures by offering a more global selection of foods like Chinese dumplings, Mexican tacos or Indian lassis.
Implementation Tip: When introducing new foods to the menu rotation, make it a part of a larger “International Day” celebration. Have teachers introduce a bit about the country of origin in the classrooms and make sure to get the word out before the meal is served. You can even do a countdown to get students excited about the upcoming flavors.
Breakfast for lunch. It’s the most important meal of the day, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the first meal of the day. Whether you’re using clean label products and antibiotic free meats or offering yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and whole grains, it’s an exciting way to switch up your menu.
Implementation Tip: Pitch it to students as their “Second Chance at Breakfast.” Whether they missed the first round because they were late or love it so much they want to eat it a second time, serving breakfast at different mealtimes is a fun way to pack a nutritional punch.
Southern Comfort Foods. Sometimes kids just need a familiar meal that will keep them full throughout the afternoon. The foundation of Southern dishes generally includes whole foods that are high in fiber, protein and other nutrients. From peas and carrots to cornbread and collard greens, kids love the classics.
Implementation Tip: Incentivize students who frequently partake in school lunches. This might mean offering a small dessert or prize once they’ve eaten in the cafeteria a certain number of consecutive days. However you structure it, students will love the added gamification layer.
Cheese Please. Provided you’re not lactose intolerant, there are few things in life more comforting than cheese. Most schools offer dairy-loving kiddos a special pizza day. Put a healthy spin on it by opting for low fat mozzarella and throwing in some diced veggie toppings.
Implementation Tip: Make Fridays pizza and bingo day! Create cards that students can use to mark down their fruit and vegetable intake each day. Have a school staff member or cafeteria monitor sign off at the end of each lunch period. At the end of the week if they’ve completed a row, let them choose a prize like a healthy dessert.
Nothing but Nuggets. What kid doesn’t love a classic nugget? If you’re attempting to sneak in a few extra vitamins, start by making sure the meat is antibiotic and hormone free, and serve with a side of veggies.
Implementation Tip: Get students excited for school lunches by hosting a poster-drawing contest of the month’s menu offerings. The more nutrition-focused the better! You can repurpose them on cafeteria walls to lightly promote the menu.
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