How to Conduct a Menu Analysis in K-12 Education

Menu analysis is a complex and time-consuming part of K-12 nutrition program management. Menus must be analyzed for compliance by knowledgeable staff for daily and weekly requirements upon creation and anytime there is a change. Regular menu oversight ensures that you’re serving USDA-compliant meals students want to eat

Tips to Conduct Your Menu Analysis

Understand USDA Meal Requirements 

The USDA has both nutrient and meal pattern requirements for school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program and other food distribution programs that the USDA offers. The nutrient analysis requires specific ranges of weekly weighted averages of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. The meal pattern requires specific quantities of food groups per day and week – meat/meat alternate, grain, fruit, vegetable, and milk. These nutrient and meal pattern requirements vary by serving session and grade level. School nutrition directors and their teams need a thorough understanding of the requirements so that menus remain compliant. 

Highlight Components and Nutrients that Fall Outside of Required Ranges 

When conducting your menu analysis, look for nutrients and meal components under the minimum or over the maximum required range. For example, each breakfast served must offer at least one cup of fruit, and the menu planner would need to re-write the menu if any breakfast meal offers less than one cup of fruit. There are technology systems that make this easy by highlighting the compliant and non-compliant components and nutrients for simple corrections.

Be Prepared with Compliant Substitutions 

When an ingredient is not available, school districts are allowed to make substitutions. The important thing is to ensure that the meal patterns and nutrients are still in compliance. Detailed documentation is necessary if there is ever a situation where a substitution would lead to breaking compliance. It is a good idea to have substitutions available that are compatible with your menu in case they are needed.

Maintain Flexibility with Similar Daily Structure 

The more flexible your menu is, the easier it will be to make corrections when conducting your menu analysis. One way to do this is to have a similar daily meal structure, which allows for efficiently mixing and matching individual items as needed. Suppose most of your entrees provide two ounce-equivalents of meat/meat alternate and two ounce-equivalents of whole grain. In case of a supply shortage, simply swapping one entree for another provides confidence in meal pattern compliance. Similarly, if your fruit and vegetable offerings are always half a cup, it’s simple to substitute as needed. We recommend keeping a guide of vegetable subgroups for reference when swapping vegetables.

The Right Tools Can Make Menu Analysis Simple

Daily and weekly menu analysis require a comprehensive understanding of requirements, sharp eyes, and available time. Savvy schools use technology to streamline the process and confirm adherence to requirements. LINQ’s TITAN software makes menu analysis faster and simpler than ever with technology specifically for K-12 nutrition program management. Reach out to our team of experts today and schedule a demo. We will show you how TITAN can work for your school district.

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