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Menu Planning

Last Modified: 08/21/2014

The questions and resources below are meant to help you move towards developing menus that feature more locally produced foods. As you work through the prompts, you will be encouraged to think through the stages of the menu planning process, from taste testing to budgeting and forecasting to serving local foods and assessing the results.

Menu Planning Questions to Consider
Background and Progress to Date

To date, what steps have you taken to assess your budget to determine how much you might be able to spend on local items, begin incorporating local foods into existing menus, and even develop or use new recipes that feature local foods? Have you taste-tested any local foods or new recipes?

Budgeting & Forecasting
"We analyzed a typical month's breakfast and lunch menu to find all the products used. We then rated the produce items by frequency of use and separated the produce by season and ability to produce locally.
Fond Du Lac Ojibwe School, MN

How will the procurement of local items affect your budget? Are the local foods you intend to purchase more or less expensive than what you currently buy? Will they take more or less staff time or training to prepare? What is your budget for holding taste tests? Will you build taste-tests in as a regular part of your budget?

Once you have a sense of what students will eat, what your budget will allow, and what menu items you'll serve, how will you determine exactly what quantities of which products to procure? What is your current food forecasting process and how will you incorporate local foods into that process?

The budgeting and forecasting processes will play an important role in determining what type of procurement you conduct. For example, your budget for a local item or several local items will help you determine whether it falls above, or below, your small procurement threshold.

Menu and Recipe Development
"Introduce the cafeteria staff to the students. Students see these people every day, but it is vital to recognize and celebrate them as important leaders in our community."
Fayette County Schools, KY

What type of menus do you currently use? Does your menu change throughout the year or repeat on a cycle? How will your menus change now that you'll be incorporating more local foods into school meals?

Are there items already served through your meal programs that you can simply substitute with local items? Which items are they, and at what time of the year are they available? Do local farmers grow enough of the product to provide all that you need, or just a portion?

Will you develop or use recipes that you've never used before in order to incorporate more local ingredients into the meals and snacks you serve?

Service & Promotion

How will you promote taste tests and local menu items to students, teachers, and others? How will you promote local items and menus to students, teachers, and parents? Will you change the look of your menu? Will you change anything about how foods are served, or how the cafeteria is organized and decorated?

Many aspects of the service (such as the time and length of the lunch period or the size and arrangement of the cafeteria) are likely outside of your immediate influence. Here, you might want to focus on things that are within your control, such as the presentation of the food, signage, posters and art on the cafeteria walls, and the practices of the service staff. But don't forget to include some of your big-picture, long-term wishes for meal service.

Assessment & Adjustment

Will you analyze student receptivity, either before or after incorporating local foods into your menu? If so, how? Will you look at what foods students put on their trays and/or what foods they actually consumed? Will you ask students what foods they like most?

Plate waste studies are a great way to determine which foods students are (and are not) eating, but they require time a lot of time and labor. Try partnering with a local university or organizing volunteers to record and analyze plate waste data in your district.

Will you offer taste tests of products or recipes before you even menu the foods? If so, will you use taste testing to introduce kids to the smell, taste, look, and texture of foods they may never have tried, or to determine which foods children like most?

Will food service staff prepare foods for taste testing? If so, how will they fit the food preparation into their busy daily schedules? Will you involve students or volunteers in food preparation?

Remember the mantra, "If they make it, they will eat it." Children are more likely to try foods they had a hand in growing and preparing, and both activities are great learning opportunities.

Where and when will you conduct taste tests? Who will conduct them? Will you record students' reactions to new foods? If so, how will you collect that information and how will you use it?

For example: Taste tests can be conducted in the cafeteria, classroom, hallways, after school programs, gardens, and elsewhere. You might try conducting taste tests in several locations and at several different times of the day to determine when and where students are most receptive.
Five Ways to Integrate Local Foods
  1. Discover what is local on the current menu
    Conduct a menu audit and find out what products the school is already purchasing locally.
  2. Substitute ingredients
    Explore what products are available locally and substitute a non-local item with a local one.
  3. Serve local products on the salad bar
    Salad bar offers the perfect opritunity to serve fruits and vegetables. The offerings can easily be modified as seasons change and most ingredients need minimal preparation.
  4. Start a "harvest of the month" program
    Consider highlighting one local ingredient every month or each season. Schools may serve the item just once or may prepare the food in several different ways throughout the month to highlight how it can be used.
  5. Develop new recipes
    Perhaps the school discovered that there is a local flour mill and it has the capacity to bake fresh rolls once per week.
Menu Planning Help

The Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
A guide (updated to reflect the new meal patterns) meant to help SFAs determine how much food to purchase and how to prepare it.

First Choice: A Purchasing Systems Manual for School Food Service
National Food Service Management Institute
Includes a section on menu systems and planning.

Menu Planning Resources
FNS’s Healthy Meals Resource System
A compilation of menu planning tools, fact sheets, guides, and more.

Fish to Schools Resource Guide
Sitka Conservation Society
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study, it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes.

Pecks to Pounds
Maryland Department of Agriculture
Translates the typical farm measurements (pecks, bushels, crates, etc.) to pounds. This chart is useful for both farmers and school food service staff to communicate effectively with each other and enables school food service staff to convert farm measurements into serving sizes.

Recommended Kitchen Equipment for From-Scratch Cooking
Wisconsin Farm to School Program
A list of equipment you might need to start incorporating scratch recipes until menus.

Inspiring Menus

Current Menus
Minneapolis Public Schools
These beautiful menus and information-rich promotional pages show that local foods can be incorporated into delicious menus throughout the year, even as far north as Minneapolis.

Lunch Menus
Gunnison Watershed School District
These informational menus prominently feature Harvest of the Month items, highlight dishes that are made from scratch, and highlight which menu items are produced within the state of Colorado.

Sample Cycle Menus
Great Trays™ partnership in Minnesota – Part of the Great Trays™ Toolkit
These sample cycle menus adhere to the new meal guidelines and show which foods can be procured locally in Minnesota.


Healthy Cycle Menus Booklet
Idaho State Department of Education
Guidance on creating exceptional cycle menus that adhere to nutrition standards, including sample menus.

What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl
Wonderful recipes, resources, and fact sheets for household and large-quantity cooking.

Kidchen Expedition
Oklahoma Farm to School Program
Full of time and cost efficient, healthful, and local recipes that use Oklahoma-grown produce; recipes are relevant wherever similar foods are grown!

Menus that Move
Ohio Department of Education
Seasonal menus that meet USDA’s new meal requirements.

The Lunchbox
Food Family Farming Foundation
Recipes, tips, and tools, and tutorials on incorporation healthful foods into school meals.

Great Trays™ Toolkit for School Foodservice
Great Trays™ partnership in Minnesota
A host of menu planning resources including worksheets, sample menus, and recipes.

Fresh from the Farm: The Massachusetts Farm to School Cookbook
Massachusetts Farm to School Project
Countless recipes that use fruits and vegetables that grow locally in New England, complete with nutritional analyses.

Taste Testing Resources

A Guide to Taste Testing Local Food in Schools
Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED)
A comprehensive guide to implementing a taste testing program in your school, including a sample timeline, case studies from taste tests in the cafeteria, classroom, and through afterschool programs.

Farm to School Taste Tests in School Cafeterias
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
A quick-start taste-testing guide for chefs, parents, and cafeteria and school staff.

Tasting Lesson – Fruits and Vegetables
University of Minnesota Extension Program
A sample lesson to that can be offered along with a taste test.

Free Tasting Lessons
Cooking with Kids, Inc.
Free and fun bilingual produce tasting lessons.

Bright Ideas for Taste Test Success
Georgia Organics
This fantastic video walks viewers through several tips for making taste tests fun and successful!