ST. CLOUD (WJON News) - The 2023 Minnesota School Nutrition Association’s annual convention wraps up today at the River’s Edge Convention Center.

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This fall, all students in Minnesota will receive lunch and breakfast at no charge, and M-S-N-A President, and Foley school nutritionist, Cheryl Pick says the trade show was full of new items and ideas.

At this conference, we're looking for new food items that students may like, especially breakfast items because I feel that our breakfast population will increase quite a bit. So it's always good to have something new for the kids. And our high school kids like more of a scratch breakfast, a hot breakfast, and so looking for items that we might be able to use for that as well.

M-S-N-A’s President-elect Michelle Hawkinson from Tracy Area Schools says there’s a balancing act in school lunchrooms. The question is do you rely on pre-packaged meals, or make your own?

We'd like to do scratch cooking as much as we can. The kids eat with their eyes - so if it doesn't look good, they're not going to eat it. We do use some package things that we just can't make from scratch for labor reasons or just can't do it ourselves.

This fall, school officials stress the need for every family to fill out the state’s Educational Benefits Application.

Noah Atlas is the school nutritionist at Anoka-Hennepin School District. He says even though all students will get lunch and breakfast at no cost, it’s still vital to fill out the application.

Most people think that it's just about the free meal. Those applications also provide benefits like reduced or free field trips, lab fees, athletic fees, and things like that. And so there's more benefits than just that free meal. That application also provides educational dollars for your school so that you can pay for teachers and books and things like that. So the more of those applications that get filled out, the more educational dollars you're going to have for your school district so that they can do what they need to do.

In case you’re interested: when asked what foods are most popular in today’s school lunchroom, several nutritionists mentioned orange chicken and popcorn chicken over mashed potatoes and gravy are always the most popular dishes.

Here's what we found at the Minnesota School Nutrition Association's trade show:

Chips and salsa are always a perfect snack!
Chips and salsa are always a perfect snack!
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We tried the chicken fried rice - tasted great!
We tried the chicken fried rice - tasted great!
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For the breakfast crowd - what about whole grain pancakes with blueberry filling?
For the breakfast crowd - what about whole grain pancakes with blueberry filling?
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There were several Asian-inspired food items to try.
There were several Asian-inspired food items to try.
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We tried the egg rolls and chicken tunga. Can we come to school for lunch?
We tried the egg rolls and chicken tunga. Can we come to school for lunch?
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