School lunches have evolved since many of our childhood days to keep pace with new dietary guidelines and school meal patterns, but one food has been an enduring component: chicken. The popular protein graces the center of the plate in a variety of forms and flavors, and the new USDA Foods unseasoned chicken strip provides school nutrition professionals with a versatile and healthy option to add to their recipes. USDA develops new products for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) based on feedback from states and school districts. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how chicken flies the coop from farms to a pilot program to cafeterias across the country.
Did you know that on any given day, USDA Foods comprise 15 to 20 percent of the value of food served on the lunch line, or that the School Year 2015 Foods Available List contains more than 200 options? For more than 70 years, USDA has provided states with 100 percent American grown food for school lunches to support the dual mission of strengthening our nutrition safety net and supporting American agriculture. The unseasoned, non-breaded chicken strip is just the latest contribution to a long history of providing nutritious foods for school meals.
The idea for the new product hatched when USDA staff heard from many states and school districts interested in a more versatile, lower sodium chicken option for their meal programs. USDA Foods already offered the popular fajita chicken strips with seasoning, but schools expressed interest in a chicken strip without seasoning so school chefs could adapt it for multiple recipes. The new product is perfect in salads, wraps, burritos, and stir fries, among other dishes. While the lower sodium content and the easy-to-use “strips” assist schools in meeting new meal pattern requirements.
USDA asked states to volunteer for a pilot program to test out the new chicken strip. Nine states representing all seven Food and Nutrition Service regions were selected to order the product and try it out during the fall of 2014. USDA staff then surveyed participants to get their feedback on the chicken strip’s taste, texture, and ease of use in the kitchen. Their input was overwhelmingly positive, and with a few tweaks, all states are able to order the product for schools to serve in spring 2015.
Are you a school nutrition or food service professional with ideas for new USDA Foods for the NSLP? If so, USDA would love to hear from you! You can send your comments to USDAFoods@fns.usda.gov.
To learn more about FNS nutrition assistance efforts, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/usdanutrition.