Chicken wings are in a school lunch sweet spot: the intersection between a commodity item and a top student request. For the first time this year, the dining team at Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Schools put chicken wings on the menu, and already overall lunch participation is up 5% over last year at the secondary schools where Wings Your Way are offered and Wild Wing Wednesday is now the busiest lunch day of the week.
“These wings being commodity is what actually allowed us to put them on the line,” says Jessica Shelly, dining services director. “Price point was a key factor in finally being able to listen to our students’ No. 1 menu item request.”
Wings are “sauced and tossed” on the line at 14 secondary schools (grades 7-12), Shelly says, but “all three choices are portioned and ready to go when the lunch crush starts.”
Wings are only offered in Cincinnati secondary schools because USDA requirements didn’t allow them to work in the younger grades, Shelly says.
The sauce selection, shown on digital menu boards, was chosen by student preference after the dining team vetted them through nutritional and clean-label requirements. The sauces are Buffalo, barbecue and Thai chili.
“Buffalo sauce was our first choice for a wing flavor as our kids love anything hot. It’s the most popular choice and we put Frank’s RedHot wing sauce straight onto the wings,” says Stephanie Dyehouse, assistant food service supervisor of culinary development at Cincinnati schools. “Barbecue sauce is our second-place choice, with Thai chili our third flavor. But we can swap that flavor out in the future and play with Jamaican jerk or maybe a dry rub…the possibilities are endless.”
Dining Services Manager Eric Zacarias says he sees the wings as opening the door to “other flavors on our chicken items being offered such as Nashville hot, blackened or Cajun.”
Shelly is also seeing future wing possibilities.
“We see the wings as being an anchor item in fun appetizer or sampler-style entrees that we’ll offer our students on special celebration menu days like Super Bowl or opening day.”
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