A new look for lunch: Goodbye hot Cheetos, hello vegetarian options

Healthy, sustainable items dominate Dallas ISD’s new menus

Lunch trays
by the numbers


Lunches served daily at 227 Dallas ISD schools

20.5 million

Rectangular polystyrene trays used and thrown away, annually

4 cents

Cost of a typical polystyrene tray

12 cents

Cost of the tray’s compostable counterpart

5 cents

Cost of new, innovative compostable plates, thanks to the collective purchasing power of the Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition of Dallas ISD and some the largest school districts in the United States including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade and Orlando

2.5 million

Meals the Alliance school districts serve daily

225 million

Number of polystyrene trays projected to be removed from landfills annually.

“The only reason that school districts and others haven’t used recyclable products is cost, so by bringing together these six major districts in the country, the volume of buying power was able to push the price of recyclables down to polystyrene,” says Margaret Lopez, Dallas ISD director of nutrition. “In the future, hopefully they will be available to smaller districts as well.”

Source: Dallas ISD food and child nutrition services


A green-leaf logo on each day’s menu identifies vegetarian items. New items this year include the “rojo fiesta pizza” (a crust topped with refried beans, salsa and cheese), “vegetarian dippers” (cheese toast with marinara), three-bean chili, and a spinach and cheese flatbread. “We have a fairly large population of people who don’t want to eat meat for all kinds of reasons, and we’re trying to address that,” says Margaret Lopez, Dallas ISD director of nutrition, noting the district’s 75 different home languages that include cultural and religious food parameters, as well as families who are vegetarian for environmental reasons.

Two antibiotic-free chicken options will be featured on this year’s menu: the chicken nuggets and the grilled chicken sandwich.

High school menus are moving from a one-week to a two-week cycle. Menus already offer eight entrées daily, and add a monthly featured item to the standard menu. In September, the feature is “chic penne” with whole wheat pasta, fresh broccoli florets, a variety of cheeses and grilled chicken. “People kind of get stuck in a rut and gravitate to the same thing,” Lopez says. “This is an effort to put a few more choices out there.”

“Harvest of the month” menu items are grown by local Texas farmers. September’s menu features watermelon from the Green family in Henderson. Cafeterias feature posters with fun facts about harvest items, such as, “Did you know the vine can grow as much as 8 feet within the first month?”

Introducing the grab-and-go ‘Smart Box’

The school lunch version of a bistro box will be a new choice this year in addition to hot entrées. Students can opt for the “harvest salad” box (pictured at left), the “protein power pack” (at right) or other pre-configured lunches with wraps and sandwiches. Like the new lunch plates, the smart boxes are compostable.

Photo by Rasy Ran

Harvest Salad and protein power pack, examples of Dallas ISD’s grab-and-go ‘Smart Box’: Photo by Rasy Ran

“We won’t be selling hot Cheetos this year.”

Last year the district piloted a program with roughly 20 schools to find out whether students would still buy snacks if there were no Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or the Nacho Cheese Doritos to be had. “And actually, they did,” Lopez says. This year, the program rolls out to all 224 schools, where any items sold at lunch and from vending machines must meet the new federal “Smart Snacks” guidelines. Lopez is well aware that lower calorie counts and the absence of trans fats shouldn’t be the only factors in snack selection. “We’re looking at clean labels for next year, and will review them this year,” Lopez says. “People get used to changes. Now they accept whole-grain products and low-fat milk. So we keep moving forward.”

chex v cheeto


Oven Baked Lays® Sour Cream & Onion Flavor

Serving size: ~ 1 oz
Calories: 100
Fat: 2.5g
Sodium: 140 mg


Sunchips® Snack Mix – Garden Salsa

Serving size: ~ 1 oz
Calories: 110
Fat: 4g
Sodium: 170 mg


Smartfood® Delight White Cheddar Popcorn

Serving size: ~ .5 oz
Calories: 70
Fat: 2.5g
Sodium: 110 mg


Quaker® Snack Mix Kids Mix

Serving size: ~ 1 oz
Calories: 100
Fat: 3g
Sodium: 150 mg

See all 9 reasons to maintain hope in Dallas ISD


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