This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice.
Turkey can be a powerful tool for school foodservice operators when it comes to creating meals that offer balanced nutrition and exciting tastes that appeal to students. Lean turkey packs a nutritional punch, and its familiar flavor can be worked into a wide variety of dishes that feature on-trend ingredients and formats.
Turkey is a nutritional powerhouse
“Protein is an essential nutrient for almost all cells in the human body, which makes it very important for students’ growth,” said Brenda Wattles, RDN, a chef and consultant for child nutrition programs.
Protein helps students remain full and focused in the classroom, but not all proteins are equal. One serving of turkey provides 50% of the recommended daily value of lean protein, making it an excellent addition to school meals.
In addition to being a lean protein, turkey contains many essential vitamins and minerals, including metabolism-boosting B vitamins. It is especially high in vitamin B6, which helps with the nervous system, hormonal balance and proper immune function, as well as B12, which helps to prevent anemia, and B3 — also known as niacin — which helps with energy production in the body, Wattles said.
Turkey brings a myriad of other nutrients to the table, including selenium, which lowers risk of heart disease and cancer. Thanks to its iron content, turkey can also help support the immune system, which is especially important for helping the body fight off illness.
A building block to well-balanced meals
Mild in flavor, familiar to students and available in a variety of formats, turkey lends itself well to many appealing dishes. Turkey bacon works in breakfast wraps or salads, sliced turkey is a natural for sandwiches and turkey roasts and other whole muscle cuts add hearty texture to chili or tacos.
Meal offerings that include a wide variety of choices have the best chance of appealing to students, Wattles said, adding that menus that incorporate a range of grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins are also likely to be nutritionally balanced.
“As a registered dietitian, I always shy away from telling people to select one food over another,” Wattles said. “All food groups offer very important nutrients that are essential to human health.”
Bread items such as wraps and flatbreads add fiber and whole grain to meals, while fruits and vegetables contribute other vitamins and minerals that complement those in turkey. All these elements add up to well-rounded meals, but also open up opportunities to make meals more exciting to students by incorporating visual elements and trendy formats.
“Students tend to enjoy flavor enhancers that work as visually appealing garnishes on their trays, such as a lime wedge, jalapenos or sriracha-mayo drizzle,” Wattles said, adding that school foodservice operators can look to local restaurants for menu inspiration.
Some foods that are popular with children right now — and could work well in a school setting when made with turkey — include tacos, salads, wraps, pizzas and flatbreads, Asian-inspired rice dishes, and breakfast items served for lunch. Many of these items work well in grab-and-go settings, which allows for flexibility to serve students in the cafeteria or via curbside pickup.