Industry News

Fun flavors and packaging solutions turn pantry staples into smart school meals

October 13, 2020
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This post is sponsored by Tyson K-12.

Creating a varied menu that appeals to students and is also economical and compliant with USDA meal pattern requirements is a tall order. This year, add to the list designing meals that can be served and eaten in the cafeteria or at home.

“With operators implementing multiple feeding models and the potential for a quick change during this school year, we’re hearing from many K-12 operators that the ability to adjust menus quickly while still maintaining a high level of quality is critical for success,” said Gena Johnson-Bumgarner, vice president of K-12 at Tyson Foods. “Serving the mission to feed kids will not stop. It can’t stop.”

Luckily, there are some simple steps operators can take to make the most of ingredients they already have in their pantries and freezers.

Spice it up with sauces and global flavors

“K-12 foodservice programs can develop recipes that create a rich and flavorful menu filled with variety that keeps kids coming back for more,” Johnson-Bumgarner said. “Proteins in our core line of products are great for versatility because they can be easily adapted to many popular and trending dishes. Pulled chicken can be served up with Mexican nachos, a Mediterranean wrap, a BBQ slider, an Asian noodle…the possibilities are limitless.”

Global flavors resonate with members of Generation Z and their younger counterparts, who are just as likely to select an international option on a menu as regional American cuisine, according to Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Report. About one third of these younger consumers said they ordered ethnic flavors two or more times a week from restaurants, so international flavors are sure to be a hit at school as well.

Sauces are an affordable and endlessly adaptable way to bring new flavors to dishes. Different combinations of condiments and sauces that most school cafeterias already have on hand can elevate a basic dish to new heights.

For example, Johnson-Bumgarner recommended Tyson K-12’s Buffalo Mac Drumstick recipe, which uses a simple ranch seasoning with buffalo sauce to create a spicy and savory flavor, and the Asian Style Crumble Beef Nacho recipe that uses a low-sodium teriyaki with sour cream for a fusion of Asian and Mexican flavors.

Pack it up with convenient packaging solutions

Regardless of what’s on the menu, formats that make it easy to dole out individual portions are key.

“The need for packaged individual meals is definitely a common theme from K-12 operators as they look for ways to distribute food to kids across different feeding programs,” Johnson-Bumgarner said.

Whether it’s chicken tender boxes perfect for delivering to the classroom or pre-wrapped sandwiches that students can defrost at home, packaging solutions can offer portable convenience.

“We’ve worked with some of our industry partners to help develop packaging solutions that work well with those kid-favorite recipes,” Johnson-Bumgarner added. “By providing packaging options that can hold entire meals, or can be frozen for pre-building and then reheated in a microwave, we’re helping K-12 operators find new ways to serve their mission despite these challenging times.”

Explore more menu ideas and browse the full line of Tyson K-12 products.