School cafeteria dining taken to the next level

A wider variety of options, new menu items and revamped recipes are just some of 2017-18’s lunch-time culinary delights. After years of ensuring SAISD meals not only meet but exceed federal- and state-mandated nutrition standards, the District turns its attention to enhancing the entire dining experience.

“The students are our customers, and that is the approach we want to take,” said Jenny Arredondo, senior executive director of child nutrition services. “It’s taking what we already have been doing and improving on it in regards to appearance and flavor.”

This school year’s menus are student-driven, and follow increased opportunities for taste-testing venues such as the annual Food Extravaganza for teens and a recent survey involving all grade levels.

New food items added Districtwide based on positive Food Extravaganza reviews include a Philly steak sandwich, crispy chicken sandwich and cheese quesadilla.

Secondary campuses offer themed serving lines featuring a variety of items like boneless Sriracha wings and a daily choice of salads and sandwiches. The number of daily hot entrees have increased at all campuses, while elementary students also can select a deli-style sandwich or salad.

Later this fall, students attending schools at the Fox Tech campus will pilot a build-your-own line where they can personalize meals such as choosing their preferred ingredients for items such as a taco bowl. Meanwhile Brackenridge HS is test driving a food truck themed-serving line of grab-and-go options including nachos, chili cheese dogs and taco bowls.

If successful, these pilots will be implemented at other high schools based on feasibility at the sites. Revamping existing recipes to boost flavor is the District’s new chef Jimmy Villarreal, a Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY., graduate.

Also new for 2017-18 is an online, interactive menu, powered through Nutrislice. Besides seeing what’s for lunch, users can look up nutritional information, immediately rate items and receive messages from child nutrition services.

These are just a few of the new upcoming offerings, including adding a more restaurant-style ambiance, which are part of the quality plan that child nutrition services presented to Trustees in May.

“We are really excited because we have a lot of great things for our students,” Arredondo said.