Our school lunch program is great and the staff are very supportive of using food from our school garden. So we're very lucky in that regard.
Does you school offer a salad bar. We have one every day and much of our fresh produce goes on this. Its a nice way to use garden produce that doesn't require a lot of planning ahead of time. When we have fresh lettuce and greens it supplements the purchased stuff (our garden isn't large enough to supply the entire need). Same with other veggies. There is standard store bought stuff on the bar but also garden produce as it is available.
Have a special event for garden produce.
We always have a garden stew day in the fall. We harvest our potatoes, onions, carrots,etc, We spend a week or two harvesting everything with the students and then it all goes to the kitchen. The staff puts a garden stew lunch on the menu way in advance. They then have time to look over what the garden produced and purchase whatever additional supplies are needed to round out the stew. Then one the scheduled day we have a small harvest celebration, do a bit of stone soup type lessons and storytelling with the students, and they have garden stew for lunch. This works nicely because the kitchen can plan and put a stew on the menu well in advance. The produce is mainly storage type items so they can be harvest and kept for a few weeks, which gives the kitchen staff time to look over what is available and plan whatever else they need. Plus its a fun event day for the students and the teachers can choose to participate with harvest type activities and lessons but they are not required too if their schedules don't allow for it. The flexibility and choice to participate to varying degrees is really key to getting everyone on board.
One of the main hurtles to using garden produce in the lunchroom is, as you mentioned, the need to have menus and food orders prepared well in advance. We've fond the best way to deal with this is to use the garden produce as a supplement so that if it is available it adds to the dish but the days menu can still be prepared with purchased ingredients if the garden harvest fails, is smaller than expected, or ripens later than expected, etc.
The other option is to have the students eat the produce right out of the garden. My students are always begging to eat the produce when we're out there. I try to plant plenty of items the kids can just harvest and pop into their mouths. For us that is snap peas and snow peas, carrots, radishes, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. A hungry classroom an strip a row of peas in record time. When we do root veggies I sit out several bowls of water and veggie brushes and the students wash their harvest before they eat it. Another easy and popular garden snack is lettuce wraps. Each student gets a large lettuce leaf and then get to pick a few other veggies (peas, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, or whatever is ripe). They use the lettuce like a burrito wrap to wrap up their veggies and eat as roll. Usually I give them some dressing to dip it in but not always.
So my advice is basically to plan your garden around things that can be eaten raw as finger foods with little to no prep needed and/or storage type produce that can be harvested and kept long enough for kitchen staff to make a plan to utilize it.
Location: Northern Wisconsin
posted 10 months ago
@Chris: Awesome. I will pass this along to my wife. She is the one working with the school. I asked on her behalf.
My daughter is teaching at a Native Reserve School in British Columbia. Last week, the principal and one of the teachers went duck hunting and got about 20 of them. They brought them to school where the kids learned all about gutting and plucking ducks. And then they were cooked in the cafeteria and made available for lunch. The same thing can happen with salmon, or deer or anything else that any member of the community has in abundance. They simply call the school and then they drop it off. They do quite a bit of Hands-On traditional skills training, so many of the older kids are already quite adept at butchering. And because these foods are regularly eaten at home, they don't seem to have the gross out factor that they might at a regular Public School.
They make announcements over the PA system. Mister so-and-so shot a deer, and mrs. what's her name brought in two bushels of apples. This really reduces the cost of running that school, and the kids learn a lot about community involvement. Because it's on reserve and they have different rules, they don't have to go through any of the hoops that someone else would have to, to get wild meat on the menu.
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
posted 10 months ago
Our school has a taste test table set up in the lunch room about once a month. Sometimes it's from the garden like the time they offered kale chips. Other times it's themed to a country one of the classes is studying. It allows for some flexibility and introduces foods the kids may have never tried before. The really successful items may end up on the regular lunch schedule too!