For New Child Nutrition Directors
Menu Planning and Smart Snacks
A Publication of ESC Region 11 Child Nutrition
Menu Planning -- The What, When, How, and Why
Menu planning is the single-most important part of your foodservice operation’s success because it drives all parts of the operation. Think of the menu as the hub on a spinning wheel. Effective menu planning ensures Child Nutrition Program success by boosting student satisfaction, increasing participation, and helping students accept the food items offered on the menu. When Contracting Entities (CEs) plan successful menus, CEs waste less food, money, and time.
- Meet the meal pattern and dietary specifications.
- Meet and support the budget.
- Appeal to student customers.
Now is the time to start working on the menu for next year. In the next few months, you will be placing orders for USDA Foods as well as working on the bids and vendors for next year. You cannot effectively order USDA Foods or communicate to vendors what you will be ordering if you don't have a set menu.
Menu planning can be difficult. It takes concentration, time, and readily available resources.
When you get ready to work on your menu, set aside a block of time in which you will have few interruptions. Multitasking while writing a menu will only lead to a non-compliant menu. The process is time-consuming; so schedule plenty of time to focus on it. Last, ensure that you have needed resources at your fingertips. The meal pattern chart is a must-have to guarantee that you provide the required components. Labels and crediting statements will also be helpful to ensure that you are crediting items correctly. If you have conducted any acceptability surveys or sales trends, pull those out as well.
If you already have an established menu, you may only need to make a few tweaks from year to year; however, if you have low participation, or just feel like your menu is no longer meeting your needs, a major overhaul may be in order!
The menu drives many factors in your operation:
- The type of products that you order
- The amount of staff you assign to each campus
- Employee training: how much and what kind
- Facilities and equipment
A set menu cycle allows you to communicate to vendors which products you will need throughout the year and the approximate quantities. Effective communication and accurate forecasting ensure products are in stock when you need them.
A menu built with mostly scratch recipes will need more staff in each kitchen; however, a menu utilizing mostly heat-and-serve items requires fewer staff members at each site. You can also write menus with a mix of scratch cooking and heat-and-serve to balance the staff that you currently have. It is also important to consider the budget when making staffing decisions because that is one of the largest expenses.
Scratch cooking also requires higher staff skill levels. If you are trying to incorporate more scratch-cooked items into the menu, you will need to work with staff to train them properly. Most districts do have days at the beginning of the year dedicated to training; therefore, having the menu set in advance will facilitate planning for training.
Lastly, determine if you have the appropriate equipment and tools to prepare your chosen menu items. If a new menu item has to be cooked in a tilt skillet, ensure that each kitchen has one. Take an equipment inventory to determine if you have adequate pans and serving utensils for the menu that you plan.
Competitive Food Nutrition Standards apply to all contracting entities (CEs) operating the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) in which food and/or beverage items are sold to students during the school day on a school campus that is not part of a reimbursable meal. The Competitive Food Nutrition Standards are also called Smart Snacks.
Smart Snacks standards apply to foods and beverages that are sold to students:
- Outside of the school meal programs
- On the school campus
- At any time during the school day
Examples of where the standards apply would include
- a la carte items in the cafeteria
- snack bars
- school stores
- vending machines
- other venues on the school campus that are available to students during the school day
The school campus includes areas such as performing arts centers, alternative campuses, and sports stadiums if the students have or may have access to these during the school day.The school day is the period from midnight the night before to 30 minutes after the end of the official school day. The “official” end of the school day is determined by the actual time that ALL instruction ends on the school campus.
Foods and beverages given away to students at school are not required to meet the Smart Snack standards, but schools have the option of making this a requirement through their Local Wellness Policy.
- classroom rewards
- foods brought to school for birthday and holiday celebrations
- Child nutrition labels (CN labels), nutrition fact labels, USDA Foods in Schools Product Information Sheets
- Manufacturer product formulation statements
- Nutrition value calculations
- Nutrition fact labels
- Records indicating portion sizes and number of servings
- Smart Snack Calculator compliant screen printouts
In case you missed it:
9-11 ESC team will be at TDA training
23 TDA Monthly School Call
24 The Monthly Rewind and Press Play Newsletter
1 TDA Spring Reports, CEP, Financial Report
10 The Monthly Rewind
24 Press Play Newsletter
30 TDA Monthly School Call
This newsletter is funded by the USDA/TDA. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.