The Lunchroom – Behind the Scenes

As someone embarking on her seventh year in the Frisco ISD education system, I used to think I knew everything there is to know about the various foods offered to students when that lunch bell chimes. When it comes to your typical cafeteria atmosphere and food, it seems like everyone envisions a fluorescent-lit room offering stinky, bland, unrecognizable food served on a plastic foam tray. After enjoying a meal, tour and an interesting chat with the FISD’s child nutrition department, I was immediately proven wrong about the menu items that are actually offered to local students.

The FISD child nutrition department is dedicated to supporting the success of students’ education and healthy lifestyles by providing quality, nutritious meals, with the understanding that students are better able to focus, learn and perform when they have access to fresh, healthful foods during the school day. Breakfast and lunch are important components in learning and having a successful day. In the FISD, menus are planned with these factors in mind. 

With the new school year set to start in less than three weeks from when I completed my school lunch taste test, it felt as if a whirlwind of preparation was about to present itself to all upcoming students. I know from experience, there are many components involved in getting ready to pack up the backpack and head back to school. There is the tedious task of shopping for required school supplies, arranging your schedule to accommodate everything you need to get done in a day, coordinating transportation and so much more. Having a plan when it comes to lunch during the school week is a big deal for busy students like myself. Food is essential to avoid long, dreary school days … and angry teenagers. So, when I got the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the FISD’s school lunch process, I was immensely intrigued.

When I arrived at Lebanon Trail High School, I was warmly greeted by the assistant director of the FISD’s communication department, Meghan Cone. She led me into the brand new, immaculate kitchen specifically designed for the high school. This kitchen boasts state-of-the-art appliances designed for efficient food production. Once I entered the kitchen, the child nutrition staff met me with excitement and purposeful attitudes. The three members of the team were ready to explain their purpose and role in the kitchen, and how their passion for creating healthy and tasty items is reflected in the food FISD students eventually consume. The child nutrition department consists of people who decide what exactly goes into a new meal designed to serve thousands of Frisco students. 

The ingredients, dishes and portion sizes are coordinated by the child nutrition staff. Every lunch approved by the staff must contain the five food groups: whole grains, meats/meat alternatives, fruits, vegetables and milk. Once a meal meets the criteria, nutritionists must then decide which grade level to serve it to. Many factors go into determining what meal is appropriate for what age. For example, a spicier dish might be more fitting for older, high school-level students, whereas chicken nuggets are notoriously popular among younger kids. The United States Department of Agriculture has very specific guidelines for types of foods offered (i.e. all grains must be whole grains), minimum quantities of each food group that must be offered daily and weekly, as well as maximum limits for sodium, calories and saturated fat. The team monitors trends in food purchases and combines this information with feedback from students, parents and staff to derive a picture of what the students want for lunch every day. They even meet with student focus groups throughout the school year to get feedback on menus and potential menu items.

Students with a medical condition or disability that require special diet restrictions are often offered a specialized menu. For students who avoid certain types of meat or who are vegetarian, there is a varied menu with plenty of options, including a meatless entree each day. 

Frisco STYLE’s digital media manager, Ben Johnson, tried all the unique food items with me, so we could get a well-rounded opinion of each dish. We tried four lunch menu items, three of which are entirely new for this school year.

The first dish that was shared with us was the Mango Pico de Gallo. Designed with preferences of high school students in mind, the mango and tomato mixture was lightly-spiced and made for a bold side dish. We could easily see students enjoying the pico with tortilla chips or on top of nachos (more on that later). The freshness was eminent in this side dish, and I genuinely enjoyed both the spice and the overall flavor. This dish was not your typical lunchroom mashed potatoes, that is for sure!

One of the main entrées we tried was the Korean BBQ Nachos. This dish will be provided to both middle and high school students, and it offers a plethora of vegetables combined with barbecue chicken. The chicken barbecue mixture is placed on chips and topped with the vegetable assortment. This dish offers a unique and healthy alternative to the classic nacho recipe (classic as in stale chips and liquid “cheese”), and Ben and I enjoyed the bold barbecue flavor incorporated into every bite.

Another entree we ate for this review was the White Bean Chile with Chicken. The goal of this food creation is to provide a comfort food-esque option to all grade levels, as well as a healthy assortment of options. The chicken’s flavor stood out, while the beans provided that home-style chili flavor so many of us are fond of. And, of course, the nutrition staff tirelessly makes sure every lunch selection offered in an FISD cafeteria not only meets but exceeds the healthy meal requirements. 

The final side dish we reviewed was the Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower. The vegetables listed in the title might sound unappealing at first to some younger students, but the amount of flavor in the food said otherwise. Perfectly-seasoned and well-cooked, this side dish really was an enjoyable choice for a student of any grade level. Because of this side, you would not have to force me to get my daily veggies in.

The amount of effort, coordination and care every faculty member I met showed during this dining review was extremely evident. It can be easy as a student to assume something like a school meal plan would be rushed or even overlooked during the planning stages, but it is obvious after this fun experience that the highly-skilled nutrition staff makes sure no factor is overlooked and no detail is rushed in any part of the intricate process.

We may not be able to leave the campus and get food from our favorite fast food or restaurant, but once you explore what is offered without having to leave campus, you might just be surprised at how much you like what you already have!

Amelia Thomas is a local student and the photography intern for Frisco STYLE Magazine.

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