On the Rice Track

In the August 2012 issue of School Nutrition, Shaily Jariwala of the USA Rice Federation provided a comprehensive rice primer packed with details for school nutrition professionals interested in learning more about how to purchase, cook and store this versatile grain in “Get Rice to It!” She also shed light on innovations demonstrated by some K-12 trailblazers who have allowed rice to become a key part of their students’ eating habits.

Melissa Grant, communications coordinator for School Nutrition, followed up with some of these operators, who also are previous winners of the USA Rice Federation’s Healthy Rice Bowls contest for school nutrition professionals, to find out more about some of their favorite rice-related menuing suggestions.

What Do Students Say? 
Doug Wordell, RD, nutrition services director for Spokane (Wash.) School District, still menus his operation’s winning rice bowl creations in all of his district’s middle and high schools at least once a week. Wordell says the Orange Chicken, Hot and Spicy and Teriyaki rice bowls are very popular among student customers. So popular, in fact, that even with Spokane now serving brown rice in the bowls (in light of the new whole grains requirement that is part of the new meal pattern regulations), students still have enjoyed the rice bowls.

Cynthia Ruffin, child nutrition director for St. Charles Parish (La.) Public Schools, continued to serve her winning Oriental Rice Bowl through the 2011-12 school year. The dish was served on a self-serve food bar at one of the district’s high schools, and students were able to select chicken strips or popcorn chicken, General Tso’s sauce or orange sauce and stir-fry vegetables to top brown rice. Students also could try adding toppings such as mandarin oranges, pineapple, green onions and other choices to their bowl.

The Oriental Rice Bowl became so popular that Ruffin and the high school nutrition staff decided for the upcoming school year to move it from the food bar to the main serving line as a regular menu item. A new Asian menu will be offered once every two weeks in the middle and high schools and monthly in the elementary schools. Ruffin is considering testing a grab ‘n’ go rice bowl as the upcoming school year progresses.

Requests for a Return 
While Erin Thacker, RD, SNS, nutrition and wellness educator for Chesapeake (Va.) Public Schools, and Renee Swank, school nutrition manager at Chesapeake’s Crestwood Intermediate School, were not able to menu their contest entry of Country Breakfast Rice Cereal Bowls during the last school year, the bowl was featured on the menu in March during National School Breakfast Week at Crestwood Intermediate School. The students enjoyed the dish so much that they have been asking for its return. As Thacker and Swank plan the 2012-13 breakfast menu, they are considering adding the Country Breakfast Cereal Rice Bowl as a regular menu item in light of the whole grain requirement stipulated by the new meal pattern regulations.

Looking to get creative with your school lunch or breakfast menu while keeping up with the new meal pattern requirements? Creative possibilities are plentiful with rice. Try using brown rice with menu items that your team already serves, such as quesadillas, salad or baked chicken.

If the bowl concept is new to your school, borrow some inspiration from fellow school nutrition professionals who shared their ideas in this article or in “Get Rice to It!” in the August print edition—or come up with your own ideas. Offering rice in a bowl and allowing students to choose from different toppings allows them to explore their own creativity. Get on the rice track for the upcoming school year and keep your student customers satisfied with something delicious and nutritious…and fun!

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