Nowhere is it more important to identify versatile products that go the extra mile than in K-12 kitchens. Tight budgets, labor limitations and lack of storage are just a few reasons that reinforce the need for flexible products that do multiple jobs, like the K-12 foodservice operators who use them.
Products that can be used in multiple ways or repurposed to keep menus interesting provide an added bonus.
“Many students eat in the school cafeteria twice a day, five days a week, so a fun new twist on a familiar favorite can be just the ticket to avoiding menu fatigue,” said Monica Coulter, corporate chef for General Mills Foodservice. “However, menu planning and ensuring variety is a delicate balance, considering that K-12 operators have a relatively limited number of products to keep inventory and budget in check.”
Chef Monica works closely with K-12 schools to provide training, ideas and inspiration. She is familiar with the items typically found on school menus and is always at the ready to help operators maximize their menus by finding new ways to use products and open up new menu possibilities.
For instance, she recently worked with the K-12 team at General Mills to brainstorm ways to use Pillsbury Mini breakfast items such as the Mini French Toast and Mini Waffles as sandwich carriers. Playing off the popularity of chicken and waffle sandwiches, they experimented with a few different variations, including a Mini Monte Christo sandwich.
Chef Monica shares more of her ideas to stretch some staple products and rethink regular menu items, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Multipurpose Products for Mini-Menu Makeovers
- Cereal. Take this K-12 staple beyond the bowl. Use it as a mix-in for parfaits (instead of granola) or even as a crouton/topping for salad. There are also numerous options to combine cereal with nuts or seeds, pretzels and dried fruit to create your own flavorful snack mix—including gluten-free options.
- Yogurt: Many schools serve yogurt at breakfast for parfaits. However, bulk yogurt can be used for a multitude of smoothie options throughout the day or can be even be used as salad dressing base or as a dip.
- Grain snacks: Not just for traditional snacking, grain snacks (e.g., Simply Chex or Nature Valley Crisps) can be used instead of bread, rolls or croutons to change things up. Instead of a turkey and cheese sandwich, offer cheese sticks and turkey roll-ups with a grain snack like Simply Chex Habanero and fresh vegetables and dip.
Chef Monica adds that it can be fun to deconstruct the delivery of a familiar menu item like parfaits or Sloppy Joes. For instance, a parfait does not have to come in a cup. Include bulk items portioned into a small to-go container or provide ingredients (cereal, fruit, yogurt) individually on a tray for an I Can Do It Myself Parfait.
Another idea is to serve Sloppy Joes in a bowl over mashed potatoes (instead of on a bun) with Simply Chex Cheddar on the side—as a bun substitute, the Simply Chex adds crunch and still meets the grain component.
One Product Three Ways
To further illustrate how particular products can have multiple applications, we asked Chef Monica to showcase how one product can appear on different K-12 menus throughout the day. Here, Chef Monica shares some menu suggestions for Simply Chex Strawberry Yogurt, showing how it can be used as an a la carte snack or menu component at breakfast or lunch.
- Serve as a meal component at breakfast, lunch or for your a la carte line. The 1-ounce, grain equivalent item is easy to use as part of any meal.
- Use it as ingredient in the Berry Berry Berry Good Parfait to add a nice crunch when layered on top of strawberry yogurt and strawberries.
- Add some pizzazz to a salad served with a creamy vinaigrette by using the cereal as croutons.