Greenville County Schools Lunch Menu


Your school lunch may have you asking where it all comes from and who decides on its composition. Joe Urban, Director of Food and Nutrition Services in Greenville County Schools, is happy to provide answers.

He’s revamping the cafeteria menu to include international and trendy offerings like Bahn mi sandwiches, mahi mahi grain bowls, Korean BBQ, and a chicken wing bar.

Fresh Fruit

Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services (FANS) delivers 14 million meals each year across all 100 facilities of Greenville County School System. Their 750 employees must ensure consistent quality meals to a diverse student body that ranges in socioeconomic status from affluent to impoverished. Joe integrates his restaurant experience into FANS as it operates like an operating chain rather than as part of a government education system.

Drawing inspiration from international travels, Joe’s team has been cooking up delicious international-influenced meals such as birria tacos and elote grilled cheese sandwiches to feed students at his school. At a time when federal nutrition standards have been reduced substantially, his vision for providing restaurant quality meals at a fraction of their original costs offers welcome relief to his community.

With unwavering support from the school district, he has implemented changes that make it easier for cafeteria staff to serve healthy, fresh food while engaging with students. Furthermore, he has taken a more gentle approach towards families that owe meal debt, avoiding controversial “lunch shaming” practices that have been widely condemned nationally.

Joe’s team has even created its social-media branding for the program: #schoolfoodROCKS. The term is fitting; Greenville County Schools’ food truly rocks! Furthermore, its menu evolution provides an example for other districts seeking to move away from pizza and chicken nuggets as staples of school lunches.

Fresh Vegetables

School food may evoke images of prepackaged entrees and limp fruit cups, but Greenville County Schools Director of Food and Nutrition Services Joe Urban is working to alter that perception. He places greater importance on local produce and making his dishes from scratch; additionally, he partners with an area ranch to source humanely raised and antibiotic-free beef that the district then serves all students as part of its menus.

He’s looking to add more seafood to the menus and plans on opening ramen, taco, and burger bars. Additionally, Urban has encouraged his staff to be creative when it comes to food – Nate Kingdom from Donaldson Career Center won a food contest with his banh mi sandwich featuring fresh and pickled vegetables that sold out within hours! Urban made sure he kept one for himself so he could taste it, too.

Urban also mentions how his team recently served an alligator gumbo to support an event about local history and once served a Low Country boil with shrimp raised locally from Buford, South Carolina.

Local focus requires close monitoring of supply and seasonality, but the results make the effort worth your while. “With quality food, you’re able to sell it,” Urban notes, “and when sold, you begin creating a culture of ‘School Food Rocks.'” Kristina Hernandez is a mom, freelance writer, and photographer from Upstate South Carolina who enjoys cooking new meals while exploring her surroundings.

Fresh Meat

Joe Urban joined the Greenville County Schools (GCS) food services department in 2010, overseeing all 84 school cafeterias and 16 additional education sites under his stewardship. Since then, he has brought his business acumen, commitment to fresh foods, and focus on customer service to what has become one of “the country’s largest restaurant chains.” Re-defining menus to make them healthier while simultaneously appealing to students has become his goal.

GCS students now enjoy more choices than ever before, as canned fruit has been eliminated from all kitchens, and fresh fruit is used whenever possible. Soups are made from scratch, and GCS became the first system in America to serve only Certified Angus Beef items – such as 4-ounce beef hamburger patties on middle school menus or Philly cheesesteak sandwiches made with thinly sliced steak for Philly cheesesteak sandwiches made of Certified Angus. Highly processed chicken has also been taken off menus.

GCS foodservice staff members undergo ongoing training to keep abreast of new international and trendy dishes, such as Japanese gyoza, empanadas, tamales, and Bahn Mi sandwiches that will become part of this year’s menu. In an age where districts often pursue meal debt aggressively with little regard for families involved – GCS serves as an exemplary model of how to work together to get students back on track with academics.

Urban and his team were busy preparing a Carolina cooking station at Roper Mountain Science Center recently for a group visiting for field trip activities. Grilling pulled pork and making Low Country boil with locally raised shrimp were on their agenda. He spoke about all of the special events hosted by food service to expose kids to healthy eating and cooking.

Fresh Fish

Joe Urban understands the demands placed upon students by Tanglewood Middle School sixth-graders can be harsh critics, so when unveiling new menu items to them, he was sure to solicit feedback and solicit their opinion.

Greenville County Schools takes an innovative approach to making healthy meals enjoyable for their students, with over 77,000 students being served by 750 FANS employees at 101 schools and special centers. When they saw how popular this item was with students, it was added to the lunch menu immediately! One example of their efforts to make eating healthily fun. Greenville County Schools boasts the most extensive school district food service program in South Carolina (44th nationally), serving 77,000 FANS employees who serve 77,000 students in 101 schools and special centers across Greenville County Schools alone!

Greenville County Schools have joined Euphoria – an annual music, art, and food festival held in Greenville – in an effort to spark student interest in food. Euphoria hosts an exciting recipe competition where celebrity chefs act as sous chefs during timed recipe challenges between students. The student who makes the best dish then adds it to the school menu; last year, it was Gobi Manchurian from Indian/Asian street food fusion that is centered around spicy battered cauliflower! Additionally, local restauranteurs partner with Euphoria by inviting high-profile chefs from restaurant scenes around Greenville so students get an insight into what life might look like as professionals in food careers.

Greenville County School chefs take inspiration from their travels around the globe when creating authentic dishes for students at Greenville County Schools. A trip to Mexico inspired recipes like the birria tacos and elote grilled cheese sandwiches served this year at Greenville County Schools, while last fall, Greenville County Schools became the first licensed provider of Certified Angus beef in all schools within their district.

Fresh Bread

Greenville County Schools goes the extra mile when it comes to providing students with fresh bread. Students have their pick of two or three bread options, and Greenville County makes its cinnamon rolls, croissants, bagels, and toast from scratch every morning! In addition, local flour is utilized when creating meals as well as serving baked goods at events like Euphoria food, music, and arts festivals.

Greenville County District stands out when it comes to culinary innovation within its cafeterias. As an example, they were among the first districts nationwide to serve St. Louis-style barbecue ribs, as well as partner with Brasstown Beef, which sells humanely raised, antibiotic-free beef. Furthermore, they collaborate with seafood vendors offering high-end items like Grilled Alaskan Salmon Caesar Salad.

Greenville’s menu caters to what children like. At one recent taste-test event, for instance, the chicken wing bar proved extremely popular among taste-test attendees. Nutritional needs do dictate much of Greenville’s selections on offer, such as buffalo blue chicken salad, cobb salad, and grilled tuna Caesar salad.

As part of their commitment to culinary arts education, this program also strives to foster student interest. They have partnered with several local restaurants in order to host cooking competitions between students and celebrity chefs visiting for festivals; the winning dish from one contest can then be added onto menus; another match allows students to create their words and submit them for evaluation by judges; over time these programs hope to expand further.