Quality on the menu: Food Services aims to raise bar in district cafeterias

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For as long as most people can remember, it’s been cool to hate the food served in school cafeterias. But Michael Rosenberger is building on what Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services has been doing the past several years to turn that tide.

Rosenberger, that department’s executive director, told the Teen School Board on Tuesday, March 21, that the best is yet to come when it comes to offerings in district cafeterias, as next year will bring many new and better edibles.

“If you’re graduating, come back and eat with us,” he told the group of juniors and seniors. “It’s going to be very good.”

New lunch menu items for 2017-2018 will include chicken and waffles, breakfast for lunch and cheesy oven-baked pasta. The department is also working to come up with its own version of a cobbler-like dessert, a peach or apple crisp.

Other changes could include hot breakfast options beyond the what’s available now from grab-and-go kiosks for high school students. Some of the ideas under development include stations to create personalized bowls of oatmeal, breakfast biscuits or croissants.

Rosenberger acknowledged that things needed to change. “Ooh, mystery meat! What’s that?” he said, making a face. “That’s what it was like when I was in school.” Now, it’s his department’s goal to provide quality food and customer service that makes students look forward to their meals at school.

Food and Child Nutrition Services aims to be more responsive, and has social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Throughout the year, students and their parents are invited to Menu Advisory Committee meetings. Also, the second annual Dallas ISD Food Festival asked 150 students from three schools taste and rate possible future menu items.

The department also uses the Nutrislice mobile-phone app, which provides school menus and information on individual items, and allows students to rate them and also contact Food Services staff. The menus are also available online here.

The department has 12 chefs on staff who contribute to chef-inspired menu items. A staff registered dietician ensures the options are as healthy as possible. For example, smoothies are not prepared from powdered mixes, but instead are made of 100 percent fruit blended with all-natural low-fat yogurt with no additives or preservatives.

Those staff members combine to contribute to a major goal of the department – raising the bar on the food itself. “What can we do to make the food better, to make it taste better, to make it look better,” Rosenberger said.

Tuesday’s lunch menu for the Teen Board included five different stations set up in the courtyard at the district’s Administration Building: Build Your Own Brunch, Market Fresh, Catch of the Day, Italian Pasta, and Soup & Sandwiches. Most of the students seemed to really enjoy the future of Dallas ISD’s school meals.

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