Walking into the cafeteria to see smiles across kid’s faces is the reason we do what we do. The food service industry can be very challenging, but as soon as you see kid’s faces light up, you know it was all worth it. As many of you are trying to serve healthy, delicious meals to the students, it is hard to find the extra time to get creative and do something new. New can mean National School Lunch Week ideas, too!

I am here to tell you that something new doesn’t have to mean hard! I sat down with Jan Williams, Food Service Director at North Canton City School District in Ohio, to gain some insight on how her and her staff pulled off a National School Lunch Week miracle and had a little fun in the process!

Looking for some National School Lunch Week ideas for your district? Read on to find out what North Canton City School District did for National School Lunch Week in 2018!

Health-e Pro: What made you decide to do something fun and different for National School Lunch Week this year?

Jan Williams: This is the first year we have done something like this for National School Lunch Week, but we are already planning for next year! Once a month, I meet with my head cooks to discuss ideas and updates. One of my high school head cooks mentioned doing something for National School Lunch Week and the cooks took off with this – brainstorming ways to increase participation, throwing out recipe ideas – the meeting room got so lively with everyone’s ideas.

My high school staff likes to go big. There are 13 women in that kitchen and I am very lucky to have a staff that loves what they do and embraces trying new things.

A few months prior, we attended a webinar from SNA that talked about the generation in high school right now is more savvy and likes to try different things and how they like ethnic food, so one of my cooks had the idea of serving different ethnic foods for each day of National School Lunch Week. That is how the idea was born for Lunch Around the World.

What did the High School do for each day?

Each day was different nationality. The first day was USA. We had a bbq bar, which consisted of pulled pork & beef riblets, shredded bbq chicken, potato salad–the basic bbq fare. The second day was Vietnam. It was my favorite day! We had Pho bowls and tried to be fairly authentic. The students could pick their meat choice and fresh veggies–from parboiled broccoli to shredded carrots–and then the kitchen staff would put the broth and rice noodles in the bowl. It was fun to see kids get excited about what to choose to put in their Pho bowl. We even gave them chopsticks!

Chicken Pho bowl

Wednesday was Mexican Day where we had burrito bowls, walking tacos, and refried beans. We gave the students lots of variety with toppings and meat choices! We did have our regular lunch options as well for the students who didn’t want to try something new.

Thursday was Italy Day, which consisted of a pasta bar. Students picked between three types of noodles, meatballs, chicken parmesan patty, sauces, and toppings.

Friday was France. We tried General Mills Italian Loaf and made French Dip with a side of au jus. Kids really liked it. We also had a Monte Cristo sandwich made with french toast bread, ham and swiss cheese all made in panini maker with a side of syrup.

That all sounds delicious! How did you find the products to use?

We all work within a budget and are limited on the products we have to choose from, but there are more choices out there than we realize. We tried to incorporate foods that we regularly served with a twist. For instance, on the Monte Cristo sandwich, we used commodity French Toast. We were able to use the resources we already had.

While trying new recipes, we also picked ingredients we knew the students liked so they would be more apt to trying the new recipe. For example, in the Pho Bowls, we had spices and lime wedges that they really liked. We tried to mimic what we saw with stuff kids already liked.

What is your advice for districts who want to do this?

It is easy to do if you love food as much as we do! I would always keep your eyes open in restaurants for things you can use. If you see something with french toast in a restaurant and it is delicious, try to use commodity – think outside the box and look at it a different light. A panini press is not something every kitchen has, but while being inexpensive, they are a fun way to make sandwiches and kids love it. If you don’t have a panini press, you can use an oven! You have to get creative.

Throughout our Lunch Around the World, kids kept saying “have this more often!”

I also think it is important to give cooks creativity. It makes it fun for cooks to explore new recipes or try new products. Our district had never tried the shredded beef or chicken that we used on Vietnam Day and the students loved it, so we are trying to incorporate them into other recipes we serve throughout the year.

Did you guys do anything else for National School Lunch Week?

In addition to our high school having Lunch Around the World, we also had incentives for our other schools. In both of our K-5 schools, we had “lucky trays.” The students that selected the “lucky trays” got a prize! The principal at one of our K-5 schools has a limo and the select students who got the “lucky tray” one day were able to eat lunch with her in the limo! The kids couldn’t stop smiling! Other prizes included pizza parties and ice cream!

It is fun when the school staff and principals get involved. Kids think it is greatest thing on earth. It was a lot of fun. It was a blast. The kids were all smiles.

What did you learn from this?

I have a staff that has a passion for making the kids happy and doing what they do. My staff is very creative and think all the work is so worth it to see the smiles on the student’s faces.

The more you can market what you are doing in the cafeteria the better. Pictures on Facebook and Twitter really get parents excited We posted pictures of the Pho Bowls and we got 130 likes–really exciting!

We are already planning for next year! Everything is in the works. It is really good to have cooks and other staff members in the building to help out. The staff was the key to making it all work!

officer serving food at school