Food Preparation
Food Preparation Tips  Minimize 

Whole grain-rich offerings are a hit at Corpus Christi ISD.
Whole Grain RollsStudents at Corpus Christi ISD enjoy whole grain-rich items “made from scratch” daily in the central bakery. Food Services Director Jody Houston says the district tried to mix their own flour blend from whole and enriched wheat flours, but the USDA Foods 60/40 white whole wheat flour blend produced a superior product that the students really enjoy. The district uses the USDA Foods 60/40 flour blend to make their popular dinner rolls (show in photo, Whole Grain Roll recipe, 1 roll credits as 1.25 oz. eq. whole grain) and French bread (Whole Grain French Bread recipe, 1 slice credits as 3.25 oz. eq. whole grain when cut into 12 slices per loaf).  The district also substitutes USDA Foods dried cranberries for raisins in the whole grain granola they make using USDA’s standardized Granola recipe.

Demonstrate a Commitment to Reducing Food Waste
Instead of tossingcomposting food scraps into the garbage, consider starting a composting program. Compost is a nutrient-rich organic material that can be added to school gardens in order to give the soil a boost. Local farmers may also be interested in building composting partnerships for their farming operations. Hays CISD piloted a composting program in School Year (SY) 2010-2011 and it was successfully expanded to all 20 campuses, as well as the Nutrition Office, in SY 2012-2013. Food scraps are diverted into a composting bin during food preparation and then collected by a company that creates premium quality compost for school gardens, lawns, farms and more.

Schools can Reduce, Recover and Recycle Food Waste
Schools should use thoughtful menu planning and strategic mealIinfographic production practices in order to minimize overproduction and reduce food waste. One tool to assist in thoughtful menu planning is food production records. Past records can be used to forecast the number of servings to plan for future service dates. A method to assist in strategic meal production is batch cooking. Batch cooking allows production staff to prepare a more accurate amount of food based on student demand. On the occasions where excess food does exist, schools are encouraged to divert food waste from landfills by implementing recovery and recycling programs. The USDA infographic shown here offers easy and inexpensive suggestions to reduce, recover and recycle food waste in schools. School districts should contact their local health department for regulations on recovering and donating of food items. 

Salt-Free Seasonings

With the first sodiumSalt free seasonings targets now in effect, salt free seasonings are a fantastic way to enhance the flavor of school meals without adding fat, calories or salt. Herb and spice blends can be used in recipes during production, as well as provided during meal service alongside condiments.  Manor ISD gives students control by offering the following 5 different salt free flavoring options (shown in photo) to high school students, after the point of sale:

  • Mexican seasoning
  • Garlic and herb seasoning
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Mrs. Dash seasoning
  • Cajun seasoning

The shakers were so well received in SY 2013-14 that these offerings will be expanded to middle school students in SY 2014-15.   Click on Adding Herbs to Your Culinary Toolbox, for the flavor profiles of 11 common herbs, as well as tips for herb gardening, drying and storing.

Knife Cuts
Salad Bar
Students have a tendency to “eat with their eyes” first. So paying close attention to knife cuts of fruits and vegetables during preparation is of critical importance. Culinary Trainer at Allen ISD Chef John Lara says, “(The) key to promoting fresh vegetables are the different styles of cuts prepared by our staff using knife skills or using the food processor to ensure all cuts are precise to compliment the entrée.” When referring to the importance of color, Chef Lara advises, “Arranging the natural colors of the fruits and vegetables also contributes to eye appeal.”

Optimize Oven-Cooked Food

Roasted ChickenEnsure that foods are cooked and browned, glazed or crisped properly to enhance visual appeal and produce desirable textures. Make sure that oven temperatures are calibrated and checked by using working oven thermometers.  For example, if breads that are to be cooked at 350°F are coming out of the oven unevenly browned, over cooked or under cooked, an oven thermometer may show that the oven temperature is actually above or below 350°F. This would prompt the oven to be properly calibrated in order to cook all foods appropriately. El Paso ISD ensures that foods are properly browned and crisped by seasoning and cooking chicken that has been thawed from frozen.  

Vibrant Vegetables
Bright Green BeansChef Juan Torrez at Manor ISD says one trick to keep the color of cooked vegetables vibrant on the line is time management.  Plan to cook vegetables towards the end of meal production and right before service on the line for Just-in-Time service.  If you are holding cooked vegetables in a warmer before service, make sure the warmer is not set too high or too low for the vegetables to maintain their vibrant color and quality.  Another trick to keep the colors of cooked vegetables bright is to steam them or briefly blanch them in boiling water.  Manor ISD blanches frozen green beans to keep them fresh looking and fresh tasting (shown in photo above).

Whole Grain-Rich Products  Minimize 

Whole Grain-Rich Pasta Cooking Resources
Refer to these resources for recommended cook times and best practices when preparing whole grain-rich pasta. All are suitable for display in the kitchen for quick reference during meal preparation.

Just the Facts! Serve More Whole Grain-Rich Pastas for Healthier School Meals is a helpful handout filled with useful information about using whole grain-rich pastas in school nutrition. It provides procurement tips, recipes, preparation suggestions and more!

Whole grain-rich products cook differently than refined white grains, and may also appear darker in color.  The one-page resource, Tips to Prepare Whole Grain-Rich Items, offers strategies in order to address common challenges associated with preparing and serving whole grain-rich products.

Additional Resources for Food Preparation  Minimize 

TDA Seal

Success Stories
  • A showcase of best practices being implemented in schools throughout the state of Texas
  • Ideas on how to improve the visual appeal and consumption of your schools meals

Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN)
  • Free access to education and training resources
  • Prepare healthy and appealing foods with Cooks for Kids
  • Culinary Techniques for Healthy School Meals provides food preparation techniques, such as stir-frying vegetables, preparing salads and cooking dry beans


School Nutrition Association logo

School Nutrition Association
  • Increase participation with new looks and a range of tasty and appealing choices
  •  Stay on the cutting edge of preparing and serving delicious and nutritious meals
  • Sign-up for SNA SmartBriefs and receive daily e-mails with ideas on how to improve school meals

 Chefs Move to Schools Logo

Chefs Move to Schools
  • An integral part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative
  • Chef partners provide menu ideas, culinary training and assistance in teaching students about the importance of healthy meals
  • Chef partners build excitement about your school meals program


Food Preparation

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) lists these resources and providers as a service to school nutrition professionals.
This list does not constitute an endorsement or verification of accuracy on the part of TDA.

Assistance available in English and Spanish. Please call 877-TEX-MEAL (877-839-6325) for help.

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Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at:, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
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This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Texas Department of Agriculture
Commissioner Sid Miller