Q&A: Trends and Tales in K-12 Menu Development

January 2024

Q&A: Trends and Tales in K-12 Menu Development

Chef Brenda shares her inspiration for delicious K-12 recipes, her predictions for emerging foodservice trends and a few moments when she was proudest of her work.


Q: How do you stay motivated, and where do you get inspiration to develop new recipes?

A: I look to restaurants, other schools, industry partners newsletters and social media profiles for inspiration. Standardizing recipes is my favorite thing to do. It involves a blend of creativity and science that gives me the opportunity to use my culinary and dietetic training. School nutrition professionals love getting new recipes, especially those that have been standardized and only need a few tweaks to meet their specific district or kitchen needs.


Q: Which trends or emerging foodservice concepts do you believe will have a significant impact on K-12 menu development in the near future?

A: Number one will be continuing to create a variety of culturally diverse dishes. It not only lets us create inclusive menus, but it also gives all students access to flavors and cuisines they might not have had the opportunity to try. Students’ palates are becoming more and more sophisticated. Their connection to social media has made them interested in trying new foods, especially those from other cultures.


Q: What was an especially inspiring moment in your career as a chef specializing in K-12 menu development?

A: It’s hard to pick just one! I was taste-testing an African dish at a school. One of the African refugee students came up to me afterwards and told me how much the chicken dish reminded her of a dish her mom used to make. Her mom had been shot and killed before she came to America. Talk about having success and purpose in my job! That little girl remains in my heart and soul.


Q: What does success look like to you?

A: I’m passionate about providing training and resources that help child nutrition professionals do what they do best––feed kids. I have traveled all over the U.S. teaching culinary skills and USDA regulations. Having the opportunity to show them how to work smarter and not harder is what success looks like to me. Often, I’ll be at a conference or training and a child nutrition professional will tell me that they previously took a class from me, and they are now proficient in various techniques I taught them. Every time that happens, I get overloaded with joy.


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Brenda Thompson-Wattles is a chef and registered dietitian who has consulted for child nutrition programs since 2008. Thompson-Wattles first studied to become a registered dietitian at the University of Idaho. Later, she received her culinary degree at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas. She has been a consultant recipe standardizer for the USDA, state agencies, manufacturers and non-profit agencies, and has published several child nutrition standardized cookbooks and resources.

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