Students help lead overhaul of school menu featuring 25 new meals

Editors Note: This information was provided by the Anoka-Hennepin School District


“I can’t believe we’re going to eat Olive Garden-food in school,” was the reaction one student had to the new mini raviolis they were taste-testing.

Wait—Olive Garden-style food in the schools? What’s that about?

Back in April and May, dozens of Anoka-Hennepin students participated in a totally different kind of test than they were used to. They participated in a test kitchen of sorts where students taste-tested new and old school-food recipes.

Many of the new meals they tried, like the mini raviolis, were a hit. Other recipes—not so much, according to Jeff Chounard, the chef supervisor for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

“Students are pretty honest,” he said. “They don’t hesitate to say they love it, or to say it’s gross.”

The student feedback in the kitchens led to an overhaul of Anoka-Hennepin’s menu. Many oldie-but-goodie foods remain, like pizza and hamburgers, but there are 25 new items on the menu, from those Olive Garden-like mini raviolis, to several new salad options, to a new student favorite: “walking tacos.”

“Kids will see more diversity in the foods, too,” said Patty Duenow, the district’s assistant director of Child Nutrition Programs. “Students will see more Asian foods and Italian foods—things they see in the markets.”

In addition, Chounard said the foods will be more flavorful.

“These kids—district-wide—they love spicy foods,” he said. “So we’re adding spices to some of the food we’ll be serving.”

And the district’s vendors and suppliers are involved as well, according to Chounard. During testing, the district and the vendor of the ever-popular popcorn chicken began tinkering with the recipe, he said.

“At one test the students didn’t think there was enough spice. The next time there was too much. On the third, it was just right,” he said. And now that vendor, using the recommendation of Anoka-Hennepin students, has reformulated the popcorn chicken recipe they sell.

“That’s the exciting thing for students,” Chounard said. “They really like that they’re being put in the power seat and that their opinion matters and counts.”

Also important—all of the new creations meet the Federal nutrition requirements that were rolled out last year, Duenow said.

“We’re just excited,” she said. “The food meets the requirements, and the students are excited, too.”

To see all the breakfast and lunch menus featuring the new recipes, visit