Using Locally Grown Products in School Meal Programs

Carrollton City HUSSC 103Now that you’ve decided to bring Farm to School (F2S) products into your district, the time has come to incorporate these Georgia Grown items into your school meal program. In this section, find menu planning tools, menu examples and ideas by seasonality, and tips for menu planning for students with allergies and dietary restrictions.

Georgia Organics offers a list of resources for Using Local Food in Georgia, including sample recipes and a downloadable cookbook on how to use local foods in your school meal program. In particular, see the link for “A Guide for Using Local Food in Schools” and download the free guidebook developed by Vermont’s F2S program, designed to help food service staff reconnect with local food systems through their school food programs.

This Farm to School Nutrition Staff Workshop Video from Georgia’s own City of Decatur schools provides an overview of how this school system is implementing F2S with staff and students. Consider this not only as a resource, but as an idea for how you can promote your own program. A short video can be simple to put together, and is a great addition to any presentation discussing your F2S efforts.

Locally grown products and agriculture-based activities can also fit into the Summer Meal Program. Review the new Farm to Summer Fact Sheet from USDA to learn more.  Also, visit the Farm to Summer section on USDA’s Farm to School webpage to find guidance and resources on the Summer Food Service Program.

Additionally, as you begin to make plans for incorporation, consider planning a taste testing event at one or more schools to give new products a “dry run.” Taste testing specific products and recipes with students is a great way to see how the items will be received before actually adding them to the menu. Here are some tips and resources to plan your next taste testing:

Taste Test Guide – Created by Georgia Organics, this guide offers tips on how to implement a successful taste test event at your school to promote F2S efforts and the products the program is highlighting.

A Guide to Taste Testing Local Food in Schools – A comprehensive guide to implementing a taste testing program in your school, including a sample timeline, case studies from taste tests in the cafeteria, classroom, and through afterschool programs, from Vermont Food Education Every Day.

Farm to School Taste Tests in School Cafeterias – A quick start taste-testing guide for chefs, parents and cafeteria and school staff, from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Host a Taste Test – Tips and resources for hosting a taste test at school, from Action for Healthy Kids.  Below are sample taste testing surveys:

Try-Day Fridays: It’s Fun to Find New Favorite Foods – A guide for holding a taste-testing event, from the Team Nutrition Popular Events Idea Booklet, United States Department of Agriculture.

Try-Day Taste-Testing Ballot – A sample taste testing ballot, from Team Nutrition Popular Events Idea Booklet, United States Department of Agriculture.

Wisdom from Others:

Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools – Learn about the “6-5-4 School Lunch Matrix,” based on six dishes students know and love, five ethnic flavor profiles and four seasons. It offers ideas for adding more fresh, local, healthy foods to school lunches; helps meal services devise an appealing variety of menus around dishes that children already prefer; and describes a tested plan for effective professional development for food services staff, from the Center for Ecoliteracy.

Eat Smart! Farm Fresh – This USDA Agriculture Marketing Service guide to buying and serving locally grown produce in school meals is an older publication (2005), but offers useful examples and ideas for incorporating fresh produce into school cafeterias.

Fresh from the Farm: The Massachusetts Farm to School Cookbook – Countless recipes that feature fruits and vegetables, complete with nutritional analyses, from the Massachusetts Farm to School Project.

Fruit and Vegetable Quantity Cookbook – All 31 tasty recipes in this cookbook have been tested and revised for use in the School Lunch and Breakfast programs, and are low in fat, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars, with no trans fats. The appendix offers taste-test survey results while the recipes provide USDA commodity information, nutrients per serving and prep time in a foodservice setting, from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Great Trays™ Toolkit for Food Service – Georgia schools can use this for its tools, information and resources to plan kid-tested nutritious menus that meet the new nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs, with tips for starting and promoting farm to school programs, saving money on food purchasing, and “nudging” students toward healthier choices, from the University of Minnesota.

Incorporating School Garden Language into a School Wellness Policies – This guide provides tips for how to add school garden language into a school wellness policy. In turn, this can increase the sustainability of a school garden, ensuring students will continue to benefit far into the future, from the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative.

The Lunchbox – Recipes, tips, tools and tutorials on incorporating healthful foods into school meals, from the Food Family Farming Foundation.

Menus that Move – A seasonal cycle of menu examples gives schools support in serving tasty meals that fit within USDA meal guidelines. Each seasonal cycle includes five weekly menus that meet both the meal components and nutrient standards under USDA requirements, broken down by K-8th grade and 9-12th grade menus, from the Ohio Department of Education.

Pecks to Pounds – Translates typical farm measurements (pecks, bushels, crates, etc.) to pounds; the chart is useful for both farmers and school food service staff to communicate effectively with each other, and enables school food service staff to convert farm measurements into serving sizes when placing appropriate orders for upcoming menu plans, from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Recommended Kitchen Equipment for From-Scratch Cooking – A comprehensive list of equipment your kitchen may need to have available in order to effectively incorporate from-scratch recipes into menus, from the Wisconsin Farm to School Program.

Rethinking School Lunch Guide – This resource for reforming school lunch articulates and provides resources on ten pathways that make up its planning framework. You may download the complete guide, or scroll down to the “policy” piece for information on wellness policy development and implementation, from Ecoliteracy.

Salad bars in the school lunch program – This memorandum from USDA addresses many questions about effectively using salad bars in school meal programs.

USDA Menu Planning – Find cycle menus, marketing ideas and tips for planning menus, including background on new national standards for school meals. There are sections for reducing sodium and incorporating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables; and tips on preparing foods for students with special diets (i.e., diabetes, etc.). Information provided via USDA’s Healthy Meals Resource System.

USDA “What’s In Season?” – Grouped by seasonality, this webpage offers an easy layout for selecting commodities by their respective available seasons with commodity-specific recipes, fact sheets and educational tie-ins (i.e., a story about the item, including a recipe students can make in the classroom).

USDA Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs – This guide reflects the new meal patterns, meant to help schools determine how much food to purchase and how to prepare it, from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.