The “Why” Behind What’s on the Menu

Below, you’ll find answers to frequently asked meal questions. If you or your child(ren) have additional questions or suggestions, please submit a Let’s Talk inquiry to the food service department.  

Q:  What guidelines do the school lunch and breakfast programs follow? 

A: The Sioux City Community School District participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP). The programs are guided and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA guidelines.

Q:  What items are required to be offered on the menus each day? 

A: Each day for lunch all grade levels are offered the following: 

  • A meat/protein – Typically this is the entrée that is offered each day. 
  • A whole grain – This may be the bun that the entrée is served on or the breading that the protein is coated in. There are other forms of grains that may be served. 
  • Fruits – A fresh fruit is offered every day to all students. Typically, there is also a canned fruit that is offered. 
  • Vegetables – Fresh vegetables are offered daily. On certain days, a hot vegetable is also offered.
  • Milk (8oz.) – All milk that is offered are low-fat (1%) to no-fat options. The types of milk that we currently offer are 1% white skim, chocolate skim, and strawberry skim milk. 

Q:  What things are taken into consideration when planning school menus? 

A:  While there are truly lots of things that are taken into consideration when planning a menu. The top three items that are reviewed consistently are: 

  • Taste and item recognition – Before adding a product to a menu, we ask ourselves, is this something that kids will recognize. Also, if the product is something that kids recognize, does the product taste like something that they know and like.  We accomplish this through taste tests with students of all ages, as well as looking at what restaurants and families are currently serving to kids. 
  • Complies with USDA guidelines – The USDA, through top nutritionists and dieticians, has developed standards to help guide schools in providing well-balanced and nutritious meals for students of all ages. There have many many USDA revisions that have occurred over the past few years to the NSLP and NSBP. Examples are:  
    • All grains served through the NSLP and NSBP are whole grains. 
    • Our school lunch program offers fruits and vegetables every day. 
    • The amount of sodium and saturated fat are limited for each item served. 
    • A la carte items sold have to meet certain guidelines that limit the types of snack options that can be sold during the school day.
  • Cost –Like any business we must be diligent with our budget. Food costs are always considered anytime an item is being considered for our menu. When we add items to our menus, we procure items in such a way that we can get the best cost per case purchased. The more cases of an item we tell a manufacturer that we will purchase, the better the price we get per case of that item. This helps to keep the final price to our customers lower.    

Below is a more in-depth list of considerations that we make: 

  • We have certain requirements for items that must be on our menus each week. The guidelines below show what we must follow in planning our menus. Most people don’t realize when looking at our menus, is that we have to offer the following each week: 
    • Dark Green vegetables (Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Romaine Lettuce) 
    • Red or orange vegetable (Tomatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Red Peppers, Carrots, Acorn, Butternut, or Hubbard Squash, Pumpkin) 
    • Legumes (Beans, peas, lentils) 
  • All items must be grown domestically –There are a few items that are very hard to get from the United States, which would include mandarin oranges and pineapple. These items are typically brought into the United States from our vendors. 
  • Availability of the product for an entire school year – This depends on if a manufacturer’s physical production of an item can keep up with our demand.  
  • Storage space – We must ask ourselves if we have enough dry, cooler, and/or freezer storage to bring in and hold the number of cases needed at each school for an item. 
  • Transportation – Because not all SCCSD schools can cook food on-site, we must transport a lot of hot and cold food from our main kitchen each day. This can be challenging because we must ensure that all food is held at the appropriate temperatures in order to keep the food safe to eat.  
  • Allergies – Every year we get manufacturing labels and labels from the cases of food themselves, to ensure what ingredients are included in the products we purchase. When a new item is delivered, we always look at what allergens in a product.  
  • Cooking equipment and technical skill – When purchasing a new product, we also must ensure that we have the equipment to cook that item. If we do have the equipment to cook it, we also must make sure that we have the skill to be able to prepare that item.   
  • Non-meat items– As our population increasingly looks to more plant-based and less animal-based foods, we are always searching for items that help students meet those requirements. 

Q:  My child does not get enough calories to sustain them during the day. I feel that the lunch program does not offer enough food, how can they get larger portions or more food? 

A:  The lunch and breakfast guidelines are structured based on an average-sized child in each grade level.  While we understand that this is not a “one size fits all” situation, the guidelines still offer a nutritionally balanced meal for all students. We encourage parents to look at the menus with their children and talk about what meal options are right for them. 

Students also have the option of purchasing an entire second meal in addition to the options listed above. Another option for parents is to send a supplemental food item such as an extra sandwich, protein bar, etc. for their child to have in addition to the full meal that is offered each day. 

Q:  Why are there not more desserts offered on the menu (this is the one we get most from the students)? 

A:  While we do offer an occasional cookie or dessert on the menus, we typically don’t include these because desserts add empty calories to a student’s meal.  We have a maximum number of calories that we can plan for each meal by USDA guidelines which limits how much of these types of items we can have on the menu.  We strive to get students their daily calories from items that will sustain their attention, appetites, and focus throughout the school day.