Industry News

Turkey: A versatile menu mainstay that can anchor K-12 menus amid uncertain times

October 19, 2021
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This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice.

School foodservice operators are faced with many challenges this year as they navigate the return of students to schools after many months of online learning and struggle with uncertainties brought on by supply chain disruptions. Versatile and reliable ingredients that are simple to prepare in a variety of ways can be a lifeline for schools when it comes to providing nutritious meals that students are excited to eat. For a flexible protein option, schools need look no further than turkey, according to Frank Samuelson, director of the foodservice education segment for Butterball.

“Turkey, simply put, is one of the most widely accepted and preferred proteins by students and parents alike. The Butterball family of K-12 products includes items that can be served hot or cold and can be served throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner programs,” he said.

Turkey’s mild flavor and nutritional value have long made it a cornerstone of K-12 menus, but its versatility will make it especially valuable to school foodservice operators this year. Nearly 97% of US school nutrition directors are concerned about supply chain challenges, according to the School Nutrition Association’s Back to School 2021 Report, and shortages and substitutions are forcing schools to alter menus on the fly.

“Flexibility is going to be the most important part of the solution as we continue to navigate the supply chain challenges for the 2021-22 school year and potentially beyond. As these challenges continue to cause menu alterations, the thing to keep in mind is that turkey can be a substitute for almost every menu that contains chicken, beef or pork,” Samuelson said. “Turkey is the perfect meal component to keep on hand to handle any supply chain disruptions.”

Turkey’s adaptable flavor profile and variety of cuts and formulations make it a seamless substitute for other proteins in an array of dishes. In fact, 59% of diners say it could replace pork sausage or bacon, 60% say it could replace ground beef and 63% say it could replace chicken, according to Butterball’s 2019 report The Importance of Turkey in Food Away From Home.

Chef and registered dietitian nutritionist Brenda Wattles created a collection of recipes for Butterball that showcase turkey’s wide range of culinary applications in dishes from salads and pasta to pizza and tacos.

“A product like our Turkey Tenderloin Medallions can be served hot in a Thanksgiving dinner application or cold as a salad topper. Our Turkey Thigh Roast works great in a comforting chili, a trendy rice bowl, or over nachos. We have these recipes and more on the website but turkey is so easy to use, operators should feel comfortable exploring it [in] new and unique ways that fit their specific menus,” Samuelson said.

This ease of use, as well as the time and labor savings of fully cooked products, can be very beneficial for schools at a time when many are short-staffed. Nine in 10 US school nutrition directors said staff shortages were a concern in planning for this school year, according to the School Nutrition Association’s report.

To help alleviate some of the strain on school foodservice teams, “Chef Brenda created instructional videos showing the step-by-step process to working with our products,” Samuelson said. 

“In a time where labor is a challenge, we believe it will be very helpful for a cafeteria worker to be able to pull up a five-minute training video on how to prepare the product.”

For more information and recipe inspiration, download this infographic about the versatility of turkey, or visit the Butterball website.