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Webinar Slides Presentation

Check out the full presentation of slides from the webinar. We discussed menu planning, recipe sourcing, creative ideas and more!

Full Webinar Transcript

Laura Thompson (01:04):

All right, we are going to go ahead and get started. Welcome everybody. We are so excited that you are here today for this webinar that we are doing with Melissa Manning of My School RD called Recipes Galore. One of the things that we see both in Facebook groups and elsewhere are people asking for, “I have this commodity, or I have this ingredient. What can I use this for?” So when we were talking with Melissa about possible webinar topics, this idea sounded fun. When you’ve got an idea, how do you do something with it that can be really cool and really interesting to your kids. As far as the kind of housekeeping items for this webinar, we are recording this session. So if you have to leave or if you want to pass it along to a colleague, this recording will be sent out to you tomorrow.

Laura Thompson (01:47):

So you can not worry if you have to leave or if you want to pass it along to someone else. I’ll be introducing our presenter today, and then she’s going to give the presentation about how do you get creative recipe ideas? What do you do, what do you think about, what do you talk through or work through as you’re planning your menus? Then we’re going to leave about 15 minutes at the end for questions. I know some of you have submitted already, but if you have any others, feel free to submit more and then we’ll wrap up at the end. My name is Laura Thompson. I am the marketing manager here at Health-e Pro, where we do menu planning and nutrient analysis software. We are also in the business of helping menu planning bring joy to menu planners. That is what we do here at Health-e Pro. We want to make sure that as you are creating menus there is joy within that process.

Laura Thompson (02:30):

If you have any questions throughout this webinar, please put them in the Q&A box. Down at the bottom, there’s a chat box, but there’s also Q&A box. And if you could put the questions in the Q&A box and then something different in the chat box that would help us keep it straight. So as far as in the chat box and testing it out right now, let us know where you’re from, where are you coming from, we’d love to see where people are from all across the country. And so let us know where you are from and everybody can see where everybody’s joining us from.

Laura Thompson (02:59):

Our presenter today is Melissa Manning, My School RD, and she has over 25 years as a consultant dietician in school nutrition. I first actually got to see her last year at the California SNA show. I was listening to some presentations and I was like, “Who is this? This woman is fantastic.” And It’s been really fun getting to work with Melissa and just talking and brainstorming over the last several months talking about this webinar and how she can provide value to you in the school nutrition space. So I love this little thing on the side where it shows what she does at My School RD and that nutrition information kind of template there. We are so excited to have Melissa here today. Thank you so much for your time, Melissa and I will now turn it over to you.

Melissa Manning (03:42):

Thank you, Laura. I’m so excited to be here today and to share with you what I learned and all of my recipe ideas that I’ve been given honestly by everybody that I work with. So they’re not necessarily from me, they’re really just I am meeting with school districts every single day and we are going over menus and we’re going over new recipe ideas. My brain does this, check off the list of all these recipe ideas and to be able to pass them off. And off to you is super exciting. So I wanted to start off today to ask what school recipes are your favorites? You have all of these ideas out there in the audience and your ideas are so creative and you know what’s popular for your students in your town with your limitations and what you have a lot of for ingredients.

Melissa Manning (04:47):

So I’d love for everyone to share what your favorite recipes are that you’re creating or maybe are going to start creating or is something you wanna try. So if everybody could put that in the chat, I would love to hear from you. We do have people from all over the place. We’ve got Cleveland, Ohio, Washington, Texas, Michigan I’m in California, down in southern California by Los Angeles. Okay, now some ideas herb roasted chicken, chicken quesadilla, Cajun chicken bowl, lemon pepper, chicken, cheese zombies (fun!), chicken and broccoli bowl, chicken nachos, gumbo, smothered burrito, queso, carne asada, granola. We’ve got some granola with smoothie bowls. Ooh, yum. Noodles bowl with dumplings, a Taco Tuesday and a build your own ramen bowl. So many great ideas out there. I don’t know about you, but when I go to sit down and make menus, sometimes my brain just does not come up with ideas.

Melissa Manning (06:02):

It becomes suddenly uncreative. And so one of the reasons for this webinar today is that when you sit down to make menus and you’re drawing a blank like, what just happened? I used to have ideas that just all went away that you can go back to this webinar to your notes and be able to be inspired again and get into that space of creativity and really choose something that your students will like. So this is more like a brainstorm of what’s out there and where you can go to find your ideas. So there are so many factors to consider today. We’re first going to talk about that when you’re searching for recipes, things to keep in mind and to think about. And then we’re going to go to a bunch of different sources where you can find great school recipes.

Melissa Manning (06:58):

There are some really popular mainstream national school lunch program websites that are out there. But then there’s some other bits and pieces of places that I love to refer to that you might find handy that you’ve not heard of as well. I have created lists because I love to be able to refer to those when people come to me and say, “Hey, Mel, what do I do? I just need something this month.” And then we’ll talk about some popular recipes from social media and websites, like let’s go where the students are looking. And also another resource is the Health-e Pro database. So we’re gonna take you on a little tour of that. And then finally, I’ve got some secret sauce recipes that I’m super excited to share. Hopefully you haven’t heard of these before. Usually this is a very fun challenge to look at my secret sauce resources.

Melissa Manning (07:58):

So next what are the ingredients to a great school recipe? So I like to keep these in mind as I’m searching for my next big hit that’s gonna be on the menu. First of all, we have these factors. We have factors like food costs. Yesterday I was talking with a client and they said, sky’s the limit. I don’t care the cost. We want to get kids into the cafeteria and get excited, right? So that is something to consider. Other schools are thinking more like, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of this commodity food that I need to use up, it’s in my freezer.” So that’s another thing to take into account sourcing and procuring ingredients. Somebody yesterday to me said we want to try a Philly cheese steak. And the problem is that people have come up with that this year several times, but they’re unable to procure the beef for specifically Philly cheese steak.

Melissa Manning (08:55):

So procuring the ingredients is a thing. Labor and equipment. Do you have the labor and equipment necessary to create this recipe? And often times we’re looking at a lowest common denominator, depending on where you’re at as far as maybe there’s a lot of substitute people that are coming in, and we have people that are very new to cooking food or being in that kitchen and using that equipment. So we need to be able to create recipes that take those training needs to into account. And then we’ve got compliance. So I have a lot of chicken wings are hot this year. They are chicken wings recipes with so many sauces that are fun. We’re going hot and spicy, we’re going barbecue, we’re going lemon pepper chicken, all these different things. But we often think of pairing them with potatoes.

Melissa Manning (09:53):

Potatoes are a starch, but they are not a grain. So then we have to go back and rework what we’re going to serve because it’s not compliant. We’re serving that with a vegetable and we need a grain. So no potatoes with those. Compliance is something to keep into account. And then accurate yields, we want to make sure that our carb counts are correct and that we’re not over or underestimating how much to put nutrient requirements. Sodium, big conversation piece, it’s super limited right now, especially for high schoolers. I did a calorie to sodium ratio and the high school lunch menu is out of control. In fact, it is so rigorous that the final most rigorous amount of sodium limits that will ever be given at elementary lunch is our current same ratio at high school right now, that sodium to calorie ratio. So we’re really cutting back on that. Branded process products what do you want to buy? Maybe it’s at Philly Cheese steak, you can get that Philly beef. And then finally, who are we pleasing- our customers, our students, but then also secondarily, the other people that are looking at our menus, school administration, teachers, parents. All right.

Melissa Manning (11:16):

So now that I’ve talked about those big concepts, I’d really like get practical. I love this list of questions because it does help us answer a lot of those bigger concepts just in these questions. I’ve already kind of gone through them, but this is a handy slide for you to reference in the future necessary equipment. How is it going to appear? My son used to love beef stroganoff. Everybody at his table always referred to it as throw up. So we have to take that into account. Will the students like it? Are the ingredients easy to obtain? Is the texture correct? Will it be like mush or once it’s served will that crispiness be gone? Is the texture correct? Is the labor time within your department guidelines? Do employees have the skills to prepare the item? Does it meet nutrition and meal pattern regulations? Do we have those grains? Do we have that meat at an entree? Is it reduced in sodium? Is the equipment available to prepare this item? Maybe some equipment’s broken at a location. So take that into account. And then after all of those questions, is the recipe acceptable to continue evaluating?

Melissa Manning (12:36):

Now let’s have some fun. We have two columns here. One is sourcing of recipes, and the other is soliciting recipes. Sometimes soliciting recipes is a whole area that is available to us that we’re really not utilizing sources of recipes seem a little bit more obvious. So we have national school lunch program, websites, social media cookbook, archives. I have some PDFs of old cookbooks at schools that were back from like the seventies and they’re so precious. Menu software. Does your software program have recipes built into it? Like Health-e Pro has that and it’s super exciting to see everything that’s available at your fingertips and already entered. Consultants. So as a consultant, I chat with so many districts especially in California. And so I am kind of like a resource hub for those recipe ideas.

Melissa Manning (13:38):

You’ve got your own family recipes, you know your students, you know this recipe, you know they’re going to love it. Well, let’s use it on your menu and you can come up with a fun name. I’ve got a client that uses Mr. Mike’s Barbecue Chicken because that is the name of the person in charge. And finally, military recipes are super standardized. They are rigorous, they have critical control points, and they’re awesome. But we can also go to this other side of soliciting recipes. Like let’s ask our audience, our students, our staff, what is their favorite recipe? Do a contest, do a taste test. You could consider focus groups or advisory groups to tell you what they’re thinking. Those can be also really easy to do. If you have a group of people that are willing to show up for a short period of time.

Melissa Manning (14:38):

It can even be 15 or 20 minutes to hear from them. Or I’m using Google Forms and a QR code and like, we want to hear from you. That would be surveys. Cooking competitions are super fun. That’s a great way to get employees really motivated and excited to do like a chef competition. And then recipe drop boxes. So places where people can place their recipes and share them with others, such as Facebook and social media. And finally, school culinary classes. So we have several, I have several school districts that have culinary classes and those students are helping standardize recipes and learning how to standardize recipes for the school nutrition program.

Melissa Manning (15:29):

Can’t do a presentation like this without mentioning the big ones and the ones that we go to most often. We have the USDA and Team Nutrition, the institute for the ICN, Institute of Culinary Nutrition and all these different places that we love to go to for school recipes. The benefit of things like the child nutrition recipe box is that these recipes, especially from USDA, are standardized. They can easily be used to credit to the National School Lunch Program unless there’s a substitution made and you’re using a different product. But they’re standardized and they’re ready to go for the most part. So they’re time tested and true. And that’s why we want to always start off with something like this where we don’t even have to really make any modifications. The yields are accurate, the carb counts are accurate, the crediting is accurate. So those are great to have.

Melissa Manning (16:37):

Then we have some of the less common areas that we can go to to grab new recipes and get recipe ideas. I have a whole bunch of recipe ideas, like I said that there’s a scratch recipe list that I have. I have one dish salad and recipe bowl idea. I have shelf stable meal ideas. I get a lot of those out there. Questions where, you know, they’re for menus that we don’t think about very often. Emergency meals during Covid shelf-stable was really important. Maybe field trips. How do we create and get inspired for those meals? I have a super side salad. So if you have a cart in the outside in a different area in a high school, then you can just put a super side salad that contains all the veggie subgroups in it and then serve it each day.

Melissa Manning (17:31):

And then you’ve got all of those vegetable subgroups already put together. I have a growing just download of all these different recipes that have the meat and a grain and are compliant. And then a burger makeover challenge is something that one of my dietetic interns created where we can just do a bunch of different things with burgers. So, okay, so let’s switch modes. Maybe you are looking for something that the students are going to get excited about. Where are they looking? They are looking at social media, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, maybe even Twitter. There are so many great ideas. There are great Facebook pages even that are just full of ideas for the people who work in national school lunch program. We have school nutrition chefs and we also have the school. You can just search in the social media search bar for school lunch program, or national school lunch program.

Melissa Manning (18:44):

There’s a bunch of different groups in all of these social media areas that you can find amazing ideas in as people brainstorm and ask questions and get real life answers from people. So that is a great area to look towards. One of my favorites that really went crazy is TikTok. If you want to see what students are looking at what they’re liking then go to where they’re looking. So this tortilla wrap recipe it was on TikTok. It is definitely buzzworthy. One thing that I liked about it is that it contains meat and a grain. I’m mainly looking for entrees typically. And so whenever I’m going to social media, I’m looking for a meat alternate with a grain and something I can put together in a single entree. This one has, you can see the meat and the grain. Let’s take a look at the recipe.

Laura Thompson (19:56):

I have the recipe here on the slide. Apologies for that.

Melissa Manning (19:59):

Oh, okay. Let’s look at the next one. We have another recipe here. That last one, by the way, was in the billions of views. It was insane how many numbers of people had seen that recipe. This is also a really popular recipe on All Recipes. So we can go to the internet and see what is time tested and true. We have 2,541 people that rated this 4.4 stars. It’s using Frank’s Red Hot. So we’ve got that spicy element to it. And we can add the lettuce and the tomato and the onion and a little kind of salad cup or a sandwich cup on the side, and kids would love this. So I also like to go to those time tested true recipes on places like All Recipes. And then I compare them to my recipe too. So if I need a new recipe, I’m like, “Oh, this needs to get tweaked. This needs more flavor. This needs more of this.” I can take a look at highly rated recipes on websites. Okay, thanks Laura. Alright, so here is another area that you can use as a resource for great recipes, the Health-e Pro database. And there are some other software programs out there also that have recipe databases, but turning to your software is just the easiest way to have something pretty much already entered for you. You don’t even have to worry about it. There’s 6,000 ingredients, 3,000 recipes, and you can definitely get inspired off of this. Laura, did you have some things to add?

Laura Thompson (21:53):

Yes, I can show a little bit about what that looks like. If you are trying to get inspired, you’re trying to get ideas, and if you do have Health-e Pro, this is what you can do in order to go find some ideas. So if, for example, you are, I was seeing yesterday, some people were asking for lemongrass chicken, and you can put in lemongrass chicken here and you see that a recipe like this pops up with Yang’s Fifth Taste. So then you’ve got all the documentation you need, all the ideas like that. Another kind of fun thing that you can do is if you are looking for specifically a dark green vegetable, you can then go and search by ingredient, search by dark green vegetable. And you’ve got all these options here of recipes that are already in the database. So again, it’s another idea if you get stuck, and if you’re looking for inspiration, use your menu planning software and get some inspiration that way. And all the documentation, all that information will already be there.

Melissa Manning (22:45):

Thank you. So going to all these different places to get recipes, the next thing that comes up a lot very often, and Laura you mentioned this is that people, we have something that we’re trying to meet, a certain ingredient need. We have to use something up. We have a lot of something or we know something’s going be coming in and we need to use it up quick. So I love using this recipe builder method. People I met with yesterday on menus. So we were looking at new menu ideas for specifically chicken. And they wanted to have fresh ideas that were using the same recipe ingredients because the storage space in the freezer and the refrigerator are super limited and they can’t bring in a whole lot of product- that is going be buried.

Melissa Manning (23:56):

So how do we vary things if we wanna use something up or we just don’t have much storage space and create new fresh options. This is kind of like the idea of going to Subway or going to Chipotle, and you’ve got all of these bases as meat. You’ve got all these grains. You could even go to the Chipotle menu online. I don’t necessarily want to go to all these different restaurants to Starbucks and all the things that students are going to, but I can go online and view how they’re making these things. How are they describing them? What are their ideas? And put together what does Chipotle got for options. So choose your meat: ground beef, ground Turkey, turkey crumbles. Maybe you want to go plant-based and you’ve got this great beef bulgogi bowl, but you wanna do a plant-based based version that students are gonna like, or a beef and broccoli bowl, make it plant-based too.

Melissa Manning (25:01):

Then on that day, you’re making less ingredients, but you’re also offering that meatless alternative. And that can reduce waste as well if the meatless alternatives are kind of struggling. Then we’ve got deli Turkey versus a Turkey roast. Diced chicken. Fajita chicken. So if I have a bowl and I’m doing rice bowls on say, Wednesdays, and I’ve got an Asian day and I really wanna do one entree that is like a chicken one week, and then I’m going to do a beef another week, and then I’m going to mix it up and I’m going to do rice on one week and then I’m going to do chow mein on another week. That is a great way to choose your meat, choose your grain. If you are looking to switch up flavors, we have different flavor profiles that we can think about.

Melissa Manning (25:59):

Do I want to go in a sweeter direction? Or do I want to go salty? Am I going to kick it up a notch and go spicy in the idea of bowls, I’ve got my chicken chow mein bowl, and then I’m going to do a beef bulgogi bowl. That’s kind of that sweeter option. And maybe I’m gonna do a spicy fire bowl. And and that is gonna be for my high school students, but overall I’m still preparing and keeping in stock these basic items that I can switch up. So the one that we created yesterday was a a barbecue chicken salad. It has a shredded cheddar cheese, and of course the barbecue chicken and ranch dressing and croutons. But then we made it into a wrap for the next day. So they can wrap up the salads, and then they could also make it into burritos and go hot and take out that lettuce. These are all different ways that you can just mix it up a little bit, hot or cold, different flavors, same ingredients, and reduce food waste and reduce the amount of storage you have to keep in your kitchens.

Melissa Manning (27:24):

This is maybe a little less known, but the Armed Forces Services have recipe books and there’s several of them out there. My favorite, because it’s standardized in terms of a hundred servings, are the Armed Forces recipes. And it’s comprehensive. They have recipes in every single category. We’ve got tons of entrees in every single category. We have tons of veggie sides that are all standardized critical control points vetted, like they are time tested and true. And that is kind of nice to have because maybe our needs are that we just have really solid recipes that are standardized. Maybe our needs are that we have we really want something popular that the kids are looking at. And we’re gonna call it TikTok — right? Whatever your need is. I just haven’t ever found such a comprehensive database of truly standardized critical control point large volume recipes as this.

Melissa Manning (28:37):

I go to it for things like chilies or new casserole or bowl ideas. They have great baking cobblers and other recipes like that, as well as fresh bread recipes. And these are things that we’re just not going to find so much on the USDA website. They do not have the meal pattern components built into them. Like most of our resources, we have to do that calculation ourself. Oh, a question just came up. Are these controlled access? These I got off Google search. It’s over a thousand page document, so it took a minute to download, but it’s so neat to be able to just put a little Control F on my keyboard and find what I’m looking for, whatever that is a chicken noodle soup or casserole or whatever. Whatever I’m looking for it’ll take me right to that. Apple Cobbler, take me right to that and I can look through half a dozen of their standardized recipes.

Melissa Manning (29:51):

Okay, so now I’ve been having some fun with this final thing that really blew my mind. And I honestly was pretty surprised how well this works. This is ChatGPT, and I’m going to show you a little sample of what ChatGPT can do. So I’ll share my screen and here I am in. This is artificial intelligence (AI). I created an account. The account was free. And basically I can ask ChatGPT any kind of question, but it does pretty well with coming up with everything from asking ChatGPT how to respond to a parent or a difficult situation to providing ideas, marketing letters to the parents, even. They’re all at your access with ChatGPT. I’m just doing the free 3.5 version so it doesn’t have to cost you anything, but let’s have chat. ChatGPT do something like give me 10 recipe ideas that are kid friendly or and include diced chicken. So I’ve got a lot of diced chicken in my freezer and I need to look at what can I do with it.

Melissa Manning (31:46):

So right away, it not only gave me recipes, but it gave me fun marketing things to paste into my software, when I can give that enhanced description, I’ve got some great things to copy and paste as well. We have chicken and broccoli alfredo, maybe we can’t do the skewers, but that’s why I ask for 10 chicken quesadillas. And you can even add some veggies in there and cook until melted. Chicken and rice casserole, comforting casserole with those chicken rice mixed vegetables, creamy sauce, sauce with cheese and bait. Chicken and corn chowder, chicken and pineapple stir fry, that sounds delicious as well. And we’ve got some color mixed in with some bell peppers. And if your kids don’t like them, just put a couple in and then they can pick them out. But you know, the color is pretty. The chicken and veggie pasta salad, maybe you want to do something cold, and this is a great way to offer that, that cold option. Chicken tenders, of course. But that’s not gonna use up our diced chicken stuffed peppers doesn’t work so well for a national school lunch program because we need grain. And then we got chicken and veggie stir fry with rice. So now I need to tell it to create or write fun names for each of the entrees.

Melissa Manning (33:31):

Let’s see what it comes up with. Oh my. Lucky Corn Chowder Adventure. Sometimes these are just fun to see what it comes up with. It sounds like it’s really into adventures right now. It’s fun to ask it different ways to market your entrees and maybe you want to make it more for a high schooler. You can ask it to make the recipes work for high school students. What I usually start out with with chatGBT is I start out with a question and then I’m like, well, I don’t like these answers because I don’t think my high school students are going to really tune into a chicken kebab rainbow or an adventure of food. So you can ask it to keep fine tuning. It likes to hear things like, what’s the age and grade group of your audience?

Melissa Manning (34:45):

Maybe you want to try and add certain flavor profile that you know your students, like a certain ethnic cuisine that you know your students like. You can give it questions like here, I asked it about testing baked beans. Here I asked it even “What sauce would you add with orange chicken tacos?” And it doesn’t even care if I’m misspelling, I get real careless. I’m just having fun. And it came up with a sauce. It actually had come up with this orange chicken taco idea because we were trying to use up some orange chicken and we just wanted to do it in a fun way. So it came up with this really fun sauce. I had these ingredients and I needed them in ratios and combinations that would create a good recipe here, condiments that contain tomato paste. So we were looking for some fun condiments that could also count as a vegetable and tomato paste credits. One tablespoon is a full quarter cup of vegetable. So we’ve got a lot of vegetables in a small amount. So I thought, well, wouldn’t it be fun to have sauces that actually credited as veggies?

Melissa Manning (36:25):

And then here we were looking at streusel topping. Because in California we have special grants for scratch cooked recipes, and they need to contain flour in them, a real like scratch baked topping. And I was looking for different ways that we could make granolas or things that we could top like pancakes with an apple compote that had a granola topping or a streusel topping on it. So let’s go to this one. Popular recipes on TikTok. So just ask it and it can give you an answer. If it doesn’t know, it will let you know. So their knowledge on the chat, ChatGPT goes up to September of 2021. However it will answer to the best of its ability. And something like the baked oats, that might be a great recipe. Takeout nuts mini pancake cereals sounds super interesting.

Melissa Manning (37:32):

I think that we have a lot of mini pancakes. What if we marketed them as a mini pancake cereal and put TikTok favorite on the side of it. Then we’re sure to please our audience. This is what they’re looking at. So it goes on and on. All the different things that we can do with TikTok, all the way from coming up with the recipes, asking it to create a recipe with ingredients, give me recipe amounts. Give me names, make the names creative, make the names fun. Give me descriptions. I even played with- there’s Bing. Bing is the search engine that’s built into a lot of our computers. So I asked Bing to create me a salad that contained, specifically, it was a Southwest salad, black beans, diced chicken, cheddar cheese, two grape tomatoes. Well, it did that.

Melissa Manning (38:39):

And then it looked like something that came right from a restaurant. So I was like, put it in a bowl or put it in a clamshell or plastic container. I want the table to be stainless steel, or I want it to be just a wooden cutting board, or whatever you want that backdrop to be. You can continue to type in the modifications that you want to make. And it came up with some pretty delightful choices. I was really surprised. I just did not have the time to be taking pictures of it, editing it, so the lighting was right and everything. And then I could just ask on the other hand, my, my Bing search engine to create that image for me. There’s better image makers out there that are based on AI. But these can really make exactly what you want, how you are making it so that you don’t provide, like I can look on Google for an image, but that might contain a bunch of ingredients that I’m not actually providing or making on my specific recipe.

Melissa Manning (39:48):

So it’s great to have. Canva even does it too. If you have Canva accounts, that’s pretty popular. It can make images for you using your ingredients. It does help to be specific though. One of them had whole heads of romaine lettuce. I was like, “Whoa, that’s terribly wrong. I don’t want the whole head, I need this cut up, like salad style.” So feel free to just give it feedback and say, “Hey, this is exactly what I need. Do it again, please.” Or not please if time is of the essence. But then I can actually have this complete recipe. I’m going to test it, right? I’m always going to test it. And then if it’s working and it’s crediting for the meal pattern I can get that great photo. I can upload that photo into my software, and I can let my software do the job of promoting that recipe in a beautiful fashion.

Laura Thompson (40:59):

Awesome. I loved hearing as people were commenting in the chat, I saw everything from, I used ChatGPT for so many things to, I’ve never heard of it before. I’ve never used it before. One even said, I’ve been scared to try it. But I loved Anna’s comment of, it’s like Google on steroids. It’s quick and easy. It’s a great resource. So it’s been fun seeing people talking about it in chat and being able to see you actually using it and how you refine it and how you go through that process was really, really cool. So thank you.

Melissa Manning (41:27):

I’m glad everybody’s excited because the first time I used it, it totally blew my mind. It’s free and it’s so conversational, which is my style. I just want to ask you questions. Totally. Yeah it provides these answers now. It is not always perfect. It does make mistakes. It’s going to try and give you the answer that you want. Do not ask it legal questions. That’s my one caveat.

Laura Thompson (41:56):


Melissa Manning (41:56):

Yeah. Actually, I did ask it some complicated questions about the National School Lunch program and crediting, to figure out, well, if I’ve got this instance with this and that it came up with wrong answers when it comes to very technical things. But it is creative and it does have some fun ideas for you to vet.

Laura Thompson (42:19):

Yes, I think that is the key. If you’re looking to brainstorm. I almost see it as- this is something I can bounce ideas off of and it’ll help me get out of a creative rut if I’m in it. I know that’s what I use it for. It’s like I’m stuck on saying this. How do I say it better? How do I say it differently? I totally agree with that. All right. We are now at the Q&A portion of this webinar. So if you have questions, put them in the Q&A box at the bottom. And we’ve gotten some both before the webinar and during the webinar. So we will be starting to ask these questions of you, Melissa. And the first one- we have lots of commodity beef and would like to know some creative ways to cook and sell to students. We’ll see this as a two part question. One, alright, commodity beef, where do I start? And then maybe once you’ve kind of walked through that process, I know you had kind of a framework at the beginning, okay, now that I have these items, how do I then actually market it to the students in a way that’s going to be helpful and fun for them?

Melissa Manning (43:16):

Great question. So for specifically commodity beef, the first thing I would ask is what’s my most important thing? Of course that’s using up this commodity beef. So I’m going to want something that’s super popular because I want a lot of students to take it. Places I would go to first in my mind are let’s make a beef and cheese (people love, you know, beef and cheese, they go together)- let’s do beef and cheese and make it into a beef and cheese burrito. And then we can also use that in an Asian way and we can do a beef bulgogi. Let me go sweet a little bit. I’m going to look online to see what’s out there for a good ground beef bulgogi bowl. And lo and behold, one went viral. So I’m going to use that one. I’m going to quote that it you know, was a TikTok favorite.

Melissa Manning (44:27):

And put it maybe on the sidebar of my menu. And then I’m gonna let that sell itself. I’m going to let students know the day before on a menu board or somewhere where I can write it down like, “Hey, reminder, tomorrow’s our big TikTok day” and I’m gonna watch it sell like hot cakes. Those would be my ideas for that. And then use the builder where we start with that commodity beef, and then you can do it in so many different ways. Thank you, Laura, with the mixing up the grains, making it hot, making it cold, changing the theme and the flavors. So that would be what I would go to. And then I’m going to again go into ChatGPT and ask for some fun names for those ideas that I want to use. I’m going to ask it to create a description so I can use my software to its potential. And then create a fun photo.

Laura Thompson (45:28):

That is awesome and I love- I’m not sure the right word for it, but kind of repurposing the meats or the protein, whatever you want to call that. I love that concept you talk about, it’ll be hot in this meal. And then let’s turn it into a wrap and then let’s turn it into a burrito hot again. I love how you’re kind of flexible with how you use recipes that way. Thanks. Okay. And then let me pull up the other questions as well. Okay. Here was one that I thought was really interesting. Say you’re testing a new recipe, you’ve done all this brainstorming, you’ve come up with a creative name for it, you’ve started marketing it. How many times do you offer it as a new entree before you know it’s a success

Melissa Manning (46:10):

I love that question. My first thought is if it’s not a failure, it’s a success. If it didn’t bomb, then that’s awesome. I would look at different things. It’s a success if Anna put in three times. Yes, that actually is the baseline for being a standardized recipe as well. You need to test it three times. And then it’ll be a success. Oftentimes also things to consider are that what is the recipe up against? Is it up against pizza day? Is it up against a favorite? If it’s not really a success, I would take other factors into account. If it’s really working everywhere in your district as far as using up the product and the staff is finding it a great thing to make and it utilizes equipment and it’s taking a lot of stress off the staff for this entree that’s doing fairly well. So three times is the answer, but then also take other things into account.

Laura Thompson (47:23):

This is another question that’s actually very similar. Maybe there’s another angle you could tackle as well, but how do you test and implement current trends like plant-based nutrition? Sometimes a district can afford the new item, but the participation from students is not there. How do you stay current while realizing all students may not go for the item?

Melissa Manning (47:43):

Oh, that is a great question and definitely relevant for our wanting to meet the needs of our varied students. So the first thought that I have is that the National School Lunch Program does meet the students’ needs of being fed a nutritious meal. But then also it has this secondary thing that we’re doing, which is to teach students and kids how to eat to expand their palates, to be eating a variety of foods. So I have to remind myself first that the purpose behind it is more than the number of students that take it. It is promoting balanced, nutritious eating and it is providing variety for those students who might have difficulty with their dietary preferences otherwise. So I look at that. And then second of all just getting practical. I suggest using that, say you’ve got a plant-based crumble, using it in the same entree that day as the regular, say ground beef for ground turkey crumble.

Melissa Manning (49:08):

And then you’ll only make that much of that one protein but can use up all the other ingredients at the same time. And it really takes a load off of not only the kitchen and how much work they’re doing, but then off of how much freezer space it’s creating and then the ovens and such. You can work that. So there’s just those extra few servings. And I also do this with the special diets meals too. If there is something little I can substitute out, then I will try and use those recipes if I have a lot of special diets to take into account.

Laura Thompson (49:43):

Love those answers. Thank you. And especially about the secondary purpose of expanding the palate and teaching them how to eat, that resonates. Thank you. Another question that came through and I think you’ve touched on this already, but maybe there’s another another angle here as well. How are we able to make lunch and breakfast menus exciting for our students?

Melissa Manning (50:06):

Marketing. A little bit I clued into on ChatGPT. I also recommend to use the full capabilities of your menu software. There are descriptions you can build in, there are photos you can build in. There is a comment that was made right now about using your real photos. If you have the opportunity to do that and you feel comfortable with photography, there are some great photography guides out there on how to take better photos. It’s always nice, yes, to have the real food. That could be used as a guide for the staff. So take advantage of the built-in marketing that you’re paying for through your software. But then also I would go back to that list way in the beginning of soliciting ideas from your staff, from your students, and even parents. Do focus groups, do surveys, cooking competitions, those all up the energy when it comes to your menus.

Laura Thompson (51:21):

Really great concept of getting feedback, getting people’s ideas and getting some buy-in that way. I know we’ve seen focus groups, parents groups, different things like that of what can help get people’s buy-in. And if people are involved in the process, that usually amps up the excitement as well. So I love that concept.

Melissa Manning (51:40):

Yeah. One thing I didn’t mention that popped into my head is NAC, if you’ve got Nutrition Action Committees or any student groups definitely like use that. We even did an athlete menu, which was really fun. So we took our regular menu at the high school and we created a sub menu of what are the nutritious options that we would recommend that are clean burning for athletes.

Laura Thompson (52:06):

Interesting. Very cool. I love that you touched on food photography and guides for that. I know that’s something we’ve talked about doing as a webinar here, so if you’d be interested in that, put that in the chat that yes, I’d be interested in a food photography webinar. We’ll see what we can do about getting something going like that. One question I have in mind, I’m curious- there are often a lot of food trends out in just life, society. Are there some trends that seem to be specific to schools that you’ve seen or maybe a trend in a school that has surprised you that you’re like, wow, I wouldn’t have expected that, but let’s capitalize on it.

Melissa Manning (52:40):

Oh wow. Yeah. That’s a complex question because trends are so regional and they can even be down to the school where I’ve seen popular items work at one school and the neighboring school that has the same demographics, it doesn’t work. And we’re like, what’s going on!? And it has to do with who’s making it and how they’ve thrown in their own little secret sauce. That brings up a whole lot of things. I’m not even sure how to answer that question, but yesterday something came up where a staff person had added turkey bacon bits to the cheeseburger and she’s only adding like a less than a tablespoon, right? Not a lot has to fit, but it was super easy to do and put it out and the students went wild.

Melissa Manning (53:41):

It went wild for the bacon cheeseburger and really it didn’t contribute too much sodium. And just the popularity of it was really, really fun. But food trends can be even internal. I think TikTok is really where to go to for the biggest food trends overall. And then go regional, like where are your students buying their food when they leave and after school, are they going to Starbucks? These are items that they’re going to already see as value added because they’re familiar and they cost a lot of money. So local restaurants, what’s getting your students’ attention is where I would go.

Laura Thompson (54:33):

Awesome. Here’s a question that came through. I know I don’t know the answer to it, so I’m really hoping you do. It sounds like when a USDA team nutrition recipe is available to use, it is not necessary to standardize it in our kitchens with our products because it is accurate as posted printed. Is that correct? I have been under the impression that all recipes, no matter the source taken from must be restandardized to fit individual kitchens.

Melissa Manning (54:58):

That is correct. So whenever we’re making substitutions, for example, I’m going to use USDA diced chicken instead of USDA fajita chicken. We are looking at a whole different calculation for crediting diced chicken doesn’t have anything else added to it. And it is just straight chicken. The sodium is super low. They haven’t put any kind of injections or broth or anything marinades or anything. So that’s going to be two ounces of chicken is two ounces of meat, whereas a fajita chicken can be as high as 1.7 ounces of chicken equals one ounce equivalent of meat-meat alternate. So it is super important to take a look at what differences are between what products you’re purchasing and what products specifically that even USDA recipe is referencing IN those details. Things like calling it a fajita chicken really changes things.

Laura Thompson (56:00):

Awesome. Just a couple housekeeping notes. Maureen Pisanick just passed along a resource for food photography, so I put that link in the chat and then Tyler from our team also just put in a link into the chat of professional development certificate for attending this webinar. So there are a couple of links there for you. I think a couple other people have passed along some very helpful things. So thank you guys for putting all these great resources in chat as Melissa has been sharing these valuable whole bunch of resources with us. This has been fantastic. So there was one other question I had, and I’m trying to see if I can find it here, but it was how do you help? It is kind of along the creative side of things. So how do you make sure that these things look or sound or seem appetizing and exciting for the kids? You know, you’ve got different age ranges. Do you have to specify or customized with each age range and how do you go about that?

Melissa Manning (56:56):

Great question. Yes, absolutely. It is important to take those kind of factors into account to customize to your gray group. Not only that, but in a say a high school where they’re not necessarily sitting at tables in certain situations they may be milling about. In California we oftentimes just don’t have cafeterias where everybody just sits down and eats in very large high schools. So taking into account your students, their eating situation, are they sitting next to each other and is there an opportunity to call something throw up or gross or slimy. They will do that because of their ages. I definitely recommend putting on the glasses of being a kid and being that kid that likes to make everything gross, right? Put on the glasses of the students that you are serving is sometimes- and this is one of my favorites, I was working with the school district and the elementary school was serving egg rolls and it was a high Hispanic population and one elementary school it did great in.

Melissa Manning (58:18):

And then the other neighboring elementary school, it totally bombed. And the question came up, well, why did it do so well at this one elementary school? And the person that was serving it said, “Well, the kids were looking at it funny. So I called it a Chinese burrito and the kids loved it.” So speak their language, think about being in a kid’s head. Ask even like what’s really helpful for me, my kids are now grown. I love to ask other parents what they think. Maybe ask people on staff that have kids that are in elementary school even ask teachers what they think- they can be really in tune. Those are all resources that we can utilize.

Laura Thompson (59:13):

Wow, this has been super interesting, super helpful and I can tell by the comments in the chat exactly what a lot of people needed. So thank you so much Melissa, for sharing these great insights and resources with us. I think the ChatGPT part, especially right here blew people’s minds and being able to see it in action is another thing. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, go use ChatGPT,” it’s another to understand, “Oh, this is what it actually looks like to use it and this is how I can refine it and use it.” So thank you so much Melissa for your great insights and for sharing this with us. This has been super helpful. We appreciate you all coming today. Thank you so much. Please join us again. We have another webinar next month with Joe Urban of School Food Rocks. So we hope you’re able to come back and join us for that as well. Thank you so much everyone. We’ll talk to you soon.