If school lunches got report cards, the Taco Salad at Northside ISD in San Antonio, TX, would be getting straight A’s. This 12-oz. bowl excels at meeting nutrition requirements, driving participation and maybe best of all—getting kids and teens interested in eating salads.
The Northside district, the fourth-largest district in Texas, serves 112,000 total meals each day. On days when the Taco Salad is served, lunch participation is 86 percent, with nearly 30,000 students selecting this item.
“We’re trying to get kids to eat more vegetables and salads, so we kept this simple and they really do love it,” says Cynthia Barton, district dietitian, Northside ISD Child Nutrition Department. It’s certainly festive on the tray, and when students dig in, the familiar taco flavors mingle with plenty of fresh produce.
The ingredients meet national school lunch requirements for servings of vegetables, leafy greens, red/orange vegetables and whole grain. Starting with pre-cooked beef crumbles, the recipe is practical for a district this large, in terms of quality and consistency, Barton says.
FEATURED RECIPE: Taco Salad
“It looks very homemade, but I think it’s do-able in any district,” she adds.
At the high school level, it’s served with a whole-wheat corn bread muffin. A package of whole-grain, baked tortilla chips is served on the side, a treat at lunchtime.
“The baked chips grab their attention, since we don’t sell any chips in the district,” Barton says. “They may choose it for the chips, but then they see that salads are really good, too.”
Another great feature of the salad is its customizable nature.
“For middle school and high school, black beans and corn can be added,” Barton says. “And it really lends itself to some great variations. You can add roasted or raw peppers, green onions, pinto beans, refried beans, a frozen Southwest vegetable blend with seasoning, even celery.”
In another variation, you could switch the beef with chicken and add some soft tortillas and you have the basis for fajitas.
The simplicity of the recipe also inspires kids to suggest that a parent make something similar at home, and the older kids see that they could even try to make it for a family dinner, Barton says.
Clearly an A+ recipe. Here's how Northside makes it.