Why You Should Consider Using Cycle Menus and More Menu Planning Tips

Menu planning can become tedious for you and your students if it is repeated monthly.  And now that the menus have stricter nutrition standards, planning becomes even more of a challenge. Child Nutrition Operations Consultant Cynthia Sevier, SNS, has compiled these tips to ease the pain of district menu planning.

Control-centralized cycle menus are more likely to control the number of menu items than those developed by individual school site managers. A centralized cycle menu creates a pattern which:

  • Students are familiar with and expect to see
  • Staff members are more likely to be familiar with preparation requirements resulting in less waste
  • Managers are able to forecast the menus items that students will choose

Menu PlanningStudent acceptability. Consider utilizing only the most popular items and dropping those that are not selected by at least 25 students per day. Keeping unpopular items on the menu increases inventory cost because turnover is slow. Menus should be developed to utilize commodities and produce while-in-season to control plate costs.  Streamlining certain products that can be utilized in more than one recipe is a cost controlling measure.

Appealing, appetizing choices. Students have so many choices now. Those choices are not limited to those served in the school cafeteria. Children dine out with parents and are becoming more sophisticated in their food selections. Are the school menus offering fresh foods that are prepared correctly and served in an appealing manner? Is there a variety of colors, tastes and textures within each menu?

Ease of preparation and serving. Menus should be developed with consideration of amount of preparation that will be required and the type of equipment to be used for optimizing the product. Are there too many items that will need oven preparation on a given menu, creating competition for oven space? Consider the number of items that will be on the serving line and the ease of serving. Are the lines too crowded? Students should be able to move through the line quickly and not be slowed by waiting on servers. Menus full of items that have to be “dipped” can slow the line.

Plan the menu using the above tips early so that wise food and equipment purchases can be made. For more tips from Cynthia and other child nutrition professionals, check out the Meals Plus White Paper Library for free downloads.

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