Child Nutrition and Psychology Combine for Smarter Lunchrooms

What do psychologists at Cornell University and Child Nutrition Directors have in common? They both want to figure out how to help students make healthier choices in the cafeteria!

Cynthia Sevier, the School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, at the 2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium with a Meals Plus customer at Cornell University in early May.

In 2009 Cornell’s Food & Brands Lab created the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. These studies examine how social and environmental elements of a cafeteria can influence students’ food selection and consumption. In other words, Smarter Lunchrooms provides low or no cost strategies to ‘nudge’ students to choose healthier foods while also decreasing waste, increasing participation, and increasing revenue. Some of these strategies include moving healthy food options to easy to reach, high-traffic areas, labeling healthy meals with fun, creative names, and representing white milk as at least 1/3 of all milk on display.

Earlier this month, Cynthia Sevier, School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, attended the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium hosted by Cornell University. At the symposium, Cynthia learned about how the six principles of behavioral economics apply to food psychology. She also heard about research on Smarter Lunchrooms conducted in Florida, Georgia. Montana, and Nigeria. As a former Child Nutrition Director and certified School Nutrition Specialist, Cynthia said that the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium was, “a great environment to learn about encouraging students to make healthy food choices.”

For more information and resources on making your cafeteria smarter, visit Smarter Lunchrooms Movement online. See how Meals Plus can help you plan smart options for your students with the menu planning and nutrient analysis solutions!


Meals Plus Solves Your Menu Planning Problems

Elke and Mandy from Nash Rocky Mount

Matt with Mandy Gill and Elke Black of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools (NC) and Graham.

Hello, this is Meals Plus Matt! I’ve been talking to a lot of districts recently who are doing their menu planning and nutrient analysis by hand.  That sounds really complicated and time-consuming, and I know directors and managers are already very busy!  So, I thought I’d share the Meals Plus answer to that problem.  

Is Menu Planning a chore? Is Nutrient Analysis overly complicated? Meals Plus Menu Planning & Nutrient Analysis modules have the answer!

Our menu planning system helps standardize and streamline your district menu planning.

  • USDA-approved for nutrient analyses required in the school meal programs
  • USDA Child Nutrition Database
  • Food-based planning and tracking
  • Ability to build and add custom recipes
  • Accommodation for HACCP guidelines
  • Approved by USDA for use in certification of compliance with lunch meal requirements
  • Post-production and record keeping
  • Fully integrated with Inventory Management component

Email “Meals Plus Matt” to talk about out how easy Menu Planning can be!


Featured Meals Plus Customer Recipe: Mediterranean Pita

Meals Plus enjoys sharing recipes that help keep your lunchlines moving! You can find this recipe and more in our 2016 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook here and Meals Plus Menu Planning Customers can share recipes in the cloud via the Community Cookbook. 

Lexington_child_Nutrition-768x512This recipe comes from last year’s Lexington One Cooks! Competition from Lexington School District One (SC).  This recipe is from Sydney Bell, the Grand Prize Winner & First Place Winner from the Middle School Division. We hope your students enjoy it as much as the students at Lexington One!

Mediterranean Pita


1 + 1/2 tsp. ‐ hummus
1/4 tsp. ‐ ground black pepper, spices, 6/18 oz.; as purchased
1/4 c.+ 1 tbsp. chopped + 4/5 tsp. chopped ‐ Iceberg lettuce
1 tbsp. ‐ chopped raw onion
1 tsp. ‐ cilantro, fresh herb washed and destemmed
4 oz. ‐ frozen chicken breast, ready to cook, boneless skinless chicken breast; as purchased
1/4 tsp. ‐ ground black pepper, spices, 6/18 oz.; as purchased
1 tbsp. ‐ chopped or sliced tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, Year round average.
1 ‐ large pita, whole‐wheat pita bread

CCP: Wash fresh fruits & vegetables under cold running water.
CCP: Wash, rinse, and sanitize all food contact surfaces.
CCP: Wash hands properly before beginning food preparations.
1. Chop onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and lettuce. Set aside.
CCP: Change gloves and wash hands properly before next task
CCP: Cook raw chicken to 165°
2. Season diced chicken with salt and pepper then cook in a skillet over medium heat until chicken is heated through.
3. Cut pita in half and spread hummus inside. Fill each half of the pita with chopped vegetables, chicken and cheese. Finish by squeezing fresh lime juice over top.

Yields: 2
Serving Size: 1 pita
Food Group Components: 1 oz. eq. grain, 2 oz. eq. meat/meat alternative
Recipe Type Entree
Additional Notes: Each serving is 1/2 of filled pita pocket.
Allergens: Soybeans
Nutrients per serving: Calories ‐ 163.961 Chol (mg) ‐ 28.330 Sodium (mg) ‐413.908 Fiber (gm) ‐ 2.997 Iron (mg) ‐ 1.533 Calc (mg) ‐ 21.983 Vit A (IU) ‐ 156.594 Vit C (mg) ‐ 7.317 Protein (gm) ‐ 14.179 Carb (gm) ‐ 19.974 Tot Fat (gm) ‐ 3.531 Sat Fat (gm) ‐ 0.718 Sugars (gm) ‐ 0.167* Trans Fat (gm) ‐ 0.000*

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.


NEW: Recipe Sharing in the Cloud

At Meals Plus, our mission is to provide you with the solutions to run an efficient school nutrition program, which is our way of “keeping your lunchlines moving!” We feel we successfully fulfill our mission with a comprehensive software suite, free resources (such as our child nutrition white papers), and a new way to add to your district’s menus – the Meals Plus Community Cookbook.


As part of the Auto Update 125, Meals Plus Menu Planning software customers can now share their recipes and download recipes from districts across the country. The Community Cookbook also allows customers to rate and leave feedback for recipes. Contact us today for more information!

Lunchroom_technology_in _schools

USDA Agriculture Marketing Boards Help Utilize USDA Foods with Tasty Recipes

Malissa Marsden, SNS, collaborates with agriculture marketing boards (or USDA Commodity Boards) across the country, using her child nutrition expertise and Meals Plus Menu Planning software to create recipes and cycle menus for use in school districts. When new USDA Food becomes available, organizations, such as the Mushroom Council and American Egg Board send their products to Malissa, who creates recipes with three main goals – to create recipes that will meet USDA requirements, will not be labor intensive and that kids will love! She also aims to create recipes that decrease labor and are speed scratch simple, can be eaten with a spork and utilize packaging that schools already use.

Malissa’s “test kitchen” is actually her local church’s kitchen. It is equipped with a six-burner stovetop and four-rack convection oven, similar to what many school kitchens use. She is able to test her recipes when there are church functions, such as Vacation Bible School, which means feedback from a variety of people, including school-aged children .

One of her most recent success stories was a breakfast pancake parfait, which she created by layering (1) USDA whole grain frozen pancake, ½ cup vanilla yogurt and ½ cup frozen USDA Tart Cherries in a parfait cup. This is a “make today, serve tomorrow” concept for Grab-and-Go or Breakfast in the Classroom entrees that are prepared in-house and not prepackaged. Malissa was able to create an item that uses USDA Foods in a new way while using packaging schools use, and the kids loved them!

The newest USDA Food Malissa has been experimenting with is IQF Diced Mushrooms, which are now available for direct delivery. Malissa especially likes the IQF Mushrooms because a large amount of them can be produced with a small carbon footprint, they are sustainable and are never “out of season.” They are also low in calories and a great option for vegetarian recipes. Click here for all of their mushroom recipes, including Malissa’s newest recipe: Margherita & Mushroom Pizza.

Through these partnerships with agriculture marketing boards, Malissa educated the boards on how the schools can use the products and what tools and information the schools need to incorporate the product into school meals. Using Meals Plus Menu Planning and Nutrient Analysis software is a key tool in achieving a winning partnership because it allows her to create recipes that she is confident will be useful for schools. With the software, she can determine meal equivalents and nutrients, provide benchmarks, and remain confident that the recipes can be standardized by the school for their operation.

Malissa’s recipes will be featured in our upcoming Meals Plus Customer Cookbook; stay tuned to our blog and e-newsletter for more information and helpful recipes as they are available!