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“The reality right now is that we know that in order to feed our kids safely and appropriately, we’ve had to transition to providing unitized, pre-packaged food items, which is not something we normally do here in Greeley,” Kara Sample of Greeley Schools in Colorado observed.

Fall K-12 menu options lean on individually wrapped grab and go

A Food Management Back to School session deals with fall K-12 menu possibilities with panelists Kara Sample of Greeley (Colo.) Schools and Juan Zambrano of San Diego Unified School District.

The Food Management Back to School session on August 5th dealt with menu development ideas for K-12 schools this fall and featured panelists Kara Sample of Greeley Schools in Colorado and Juan Zambrano of San Diego USD in California. It was moderated by FM Senior Editor Tara Fitzpatrick.

Sample and Zambrano face differing circumstances this fall, with Greeley Schools opting for a combination of in-person and remote learning classes while San Diego, as of now, is going to begin the school year exclusively online. The approaches bring different challenges.

“The reality right now is that we know that in order to feed our kids safely and appropriately, we’ve had to transition to providing unitized, pre-packaged food items, which is not something we normally do here in Greeley,” Sample observed. Given that circumstances may alter, she says she plans to start the school year on Aug. 17th with all cold items to keep things simple. Lunches for in-person students will be served in classrooms. Menu examples include PB&J, deli sandwiches and wraps, a bean and cheese dip and “Lunchables-type” kits that let kids assemble their own components from the available choices and which have been “hugely popular” over the summer in Greeley, Sample noted.

Zambrano says his priorities for the start of the school year are to use up existing stock from district warehouses, to emphasize popular items to boost participation and just to “keep things simple” while soliciting menu ideas from the large and diverse staff employed by San Diego USD Nutrition Services. The huge district, one of the 25 largest in the country by enrollment, boasts 186 kitchens across its network, which presents plenty of sources for suggestions.

“One of the best things about my job is that I work not only with the office but with the team in the field and I get a lot of good menu ideas from them,” he noted.

Packaging is a critical component of both programs. Sample says her district is in the process of acquiring packaging machines that will allow her to begin serving made-from-scratch and even hot entrees because the packages will be oven-able.

One item she is looking forward to bringing back when hot meals are again possible is the district’s popular “krautburger,” which is ground beef mixed with onions and cabbage encased in calzone dough accompanied by a housemade cheese sauce as a side dip.

“When we get our packaging machine, we want to do the krautburger filling and serve it with tortilla chips so we can make this crazy fusion krautburger nacho dish,” Sample said.

Meanwhile at San Diego USD, Zambrano is looking at individually packaged items that will be convenient and appealing when distributed at curbside, the model he will have to use at least at the start of the school year.

“We’ll have IW items like corn dogs, grilled cheese, burgers, sliders and pizza because kids approve and they hold their quality well when packaged with other menu components,” he observed. “They also have a low footprint in our refrigerators, and they have a good food safety track record with us. Of course, we’ll have to include handling and food safety instructions with them.”

At the start, these will all be vendor pre-packs but Zambrano says as the year goes on he’d like to start drawing down the large quantity of items in district warehouses to produce his own individually wrapped meals such as teriyaki, carnita, mac ‘n cheese and chili bowls, or even repurpose burger patties into Salisbury steak that could be served with mashed potatoes.

“There are so many things we can do with the available items to get creative and find new ways to please our customers,” he said.

This is part of special coverage of the Back to School with Food Management webinar series to help college and K-12 dining programs get ready for the fall. Register for live sessions or on-demand replays at The series concludes on Aug. 11 with “A Look to the Future,” featuring results from FM’s exclusive market research.

This session was sponsored by Ripple.

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