Directors and chefs in the K-12 market face unique challenges: meeting government regulations, pleasing picky eaters and communicating with concerned parents, to name a few. They must create menu items that are not only nutritious, but that will also grab the attention of kids, some of the toughest food critics out there. Here are some developed by school operators with whom we've recently talked:

If school lunches got report cards, the Taco Salad, developed by District Dietitian Cynthia Barton at Northside ISD in San Antonio, TX, would be getting straight A’s. This 12-oz. bowl excels at meeting nutrition requirements, driving participation and maybe best of all—getting kids and teens interested in eating salads. See the Chef Demo here.
 
Mushroom Strudel with Gorgonzola and Mushroom Demi Glace was the winner of the entrée category in the Flik Independent School Dining-Mushroom Council Recipe Contest, held in New York City this past spring. This flaky, tangy, umami-bomb of a mushroom strudel by Scott Iwanicki was a real show stopper. “I learned to cook from an old-school Austrian chef who grew mushrooms behind his house,” says Iwanicki, Flik Independent School Dining executive chef for the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT. 
 
Cincinnati (OH) Public Schools recently won Barilla’s K-12 contest for regional recipes with this unique 'bowl of red.' Cincinnati chili is warm and earthy, rather than steeped in Southwest kick. It draws its character from the city's Greek immigrants who introduced flavors like cinnamon to this hearty bowl. Traditionally served over spaghetti, it’s a fun way to serve chili and perfect for kids.
 
Young customers are ready for creative menu items that keep things fun and fresh. (And yes, we’re talking nutrient-rich, healthful choices. Shhh.) This recipe is one of the great revamped stealth-health recipes that Brad Faith, chef, Columbia (MO) Schools, has been working on to entice his young customers into healthier eating through craveable entrees.
 
Vegetables and whole grains can team up to make some excellent choices for kids, says Michael Clancy, Flik Independent School Dining Executive Chef for The Rivers School, Weston, MA. He's been working with meatless dishes that are so healthy it's hard to believe they could be delicious, too, but they are. This wheat berry salad is no exception. Wheat berries are a little less familiar in the marketplace than, say, quinoa, but many people prefer them as a whole grain for their slightly chewy texture. Give this adaptable salad a try with seasonal veggies.
 
For the fourth consecutive year, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) students and food service managers worked with award-winning chefs to add new items to school menus as part of the national Chefs Move to Schools initiative. New items for elementary lunch menus were showcased at an event at Brookshire Elementary where, Chef Elizabeth Morvay-Leh and three of the OCPS food service managers, Ebony Frazier, Amy Vorhees and Michael Lopez, were able to attend and show off their creations.
 
These incredibly simple sliders were another item developed during Orange County Public Schools' work with the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. A menu item like this takes kids from their comfort zone (burgers) to trying something that they may not have otherwise tried (Picky eater, meet guacamole). 
 
Flatbreads have been climbing the trend ladder for several years now. As a blank slate, they give chefs the license to create flavor combinations that wander to all corners of the earth. Figs and gorgonzola, caramelized onion and goat cheese, pancetta and eggs, just to name a few of these diverse options. A team of Flik chefs created this recipe for a flatbread that's house made, adding to the value on the menu even more.