31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: MMMMM-Mushrooms in Schools

If you looked carefully at two of the salad bars in yesterday’s #RealSchoolFood post on Salad Bars Bring on the Produce, you may have noticed that they included fresh mushrooms. In the interest of full disclosure, I am proud to work as a nutrition consultant to the Mushroom Council on school-related issues – and I love to eat mushrooms of all types, raw, cooked and dried.

Although it might not seem immediately obvious, mushroom have a lot to offer to school meals. And, the Mushroom Council has made a real commitment to helping school nutrition programs maximize their use of mushrooms in fun and delicious ways with recipes and success stories on the Mushrooms in Schools website. My favorite photo is these fabulous ‘lunch ladies,’ part of ‘Mushroom Week’ in a New Orleans public school where students got learn about mushrooms in the classroom and eat them in the cafeteria. The student-made aprons are marvelously mushroom-y!

Lusher Elementary Lunch Ladies - ready for 'Mushroom Week' in New Orleans

Lusher Elementary Lunch Ladies – ready for ‘Mushroom Week’ in New Orleans

Chef Robert Rusan, winner of a 2015 School Nutrition Foundation HERO Award may not wear a mushroom covered apron but he certainly knows how to maximize the unique umami potential of mushrooms. Known as the fifth taste, umami – the savory flavor of mushrooms – helps Rusan reduce the sodium in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights meals. Salads, stir-fries, pizza, meatballs and pasta dishes – mushrooms can be added effectively to many of students favorite meals and Rusan’s farm to school delights! Read about Chef Rusan’s Mushroom Success, as well as others, online.

Mushroom Creations from Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, Missouri

Mushroom Creations from Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, Missouri

For school nutrition directors, as well as home cooks, blendability is one of the most exciting features of mushrooms. Finely diced or chopped mushrooms taste, look, act and perform like ground meat. When mixed with ground beef and other meats, the nutritional profile of finely diced mushrooms allows schools to serve students some of the favorite foods, while meeting the new Meal Patterns. In Cincinnati Public Schools, Director Jessica Shelley diverted USDA beef for further processing with USDA Foods IQF Mushrooms to make a burger patty with beef and mushrooms. Lower calories, fat, and sodium allowed for additional menu choices, including a Turkey Bacon Cheeseburger which fits guidelines – and lower costs as well. Read more about this blendability success story online or below.

Mushroom Blendability Success Story from Cincinnati Public Schools

Mushroom Blendability Success Story from Cincinnati Public Schools

For more about the availability of mushroom blended products, check with your meat processor. Several companies have multiple products. For more about creating your own blended items, recipes and news, visit Mushrooms in Schools.

 

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Salad Bars Bring on the Produce

Schools clearly have a role in providing healthy foods to children. Our data suggest that the most vulnerable students are benefitting the most from school food.” A recently published study by Dr. Madeline Dalton, PhDThe Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth College, confirms that school meals are important source of produce for low-income adolescents. According to her co-author Dr. Meghan Longacre, “Innovation in school food offerings for kids has emphasized increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and it’s working for low-income kids, but the evidence shows that a different strategy may be needed to have the same positive effect on high income kids.”

The innovation the authors refer to includes the requirements of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and changes in Meal Patterns to increase the quantity and variety of produce offerings at school. A quick look at three school salad bars from Southern states – an area not known for its fresh vegetable consumption – confirms that students are enjoying incredible produce options at school.

Lusher High School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Lusher High School, New Orleans, Louisiana

This gorgeous salad bar in a New Orleans Charter School includes everything from common celery to more exotic fresh mushrooms. These teens in this school can clearly enjoy a wide variety of flavors, textures and nutrition along with their lunch entrée. In many schools, teens are to take as many fruits and vegetables as they want. Middle School students in Carrollton, Georgia, can enjoy these colorful choices as part of the district’s Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools initiative.

Carrollton Middle School Salad Bar, Carrollton City Schools, Georgia

Carrollton Middle School Salad Bar, Carrollton City Schools, Georgia

Up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the High School Salad Bar is truly impressive. Like her colleague Dr. Linnette Dodson in the Carrollton, Georgia, Harrisonburg’s School Nutrition Director Andrea Early works hard to source as many local items for the produce bar as possible.

Harrisonburg (VA) High School Salad Bar

Harrisonburg (VA) High School Salad Bar

Of course, the most important question is: Do teens really dig into these beautiful displays and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables? The answer, according to a January 2014 Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative is a resounding success! As reported by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition (GSCN) the successful outcomes of salad Bar Implementation included:

  • Increased students’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Most schools reported increased student participation in school lunch (57%)
  • School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents became more supportive of salad bars
  • A majority of schools reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables (78%)
  • Schools used fresh, pre-cut fruits and vegetables for salad bars (81%)

Additional results of the evaluation are outlined in this infographic from the report.

Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative

Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Eaten with a Smile

At a training last summer in Killeen, Texas, a woman came up afterward and said, “I’m just a clerk in a school cafeteria. but I feel every customer that comes through my line the same thing. if you smile when you eat that _______, it will taste better.”

First of all, no one is just a clerk or dishwasher or cook or _________ in a school cafeteria. Everyone plays an important in making sure that hungry children get the food they need to succeed in the classroom. Remember, S.M.I.L.E. = Schools Meals Improve Learning Environments. Secondly, she was right! Things do taste better when we smile and think positively about them – and children are more likely to taste a new food if it is served with a smile .

I love the “12 Days of Great School Meals” campaign that Director Cleta Long is doing in Bibb County School District, School Nutrition Department, Georgia. Through her Eat Right, Be Bright Facebook page and Twitter account, Long is sharing gorgeous meals from around the district, with kudos to the her staff for their food, their decorations and their photos. What I noticed immediately were the smiling faces of the happy children.

Holiday Meal at Morgan Elementary, Bibb County Schools, Georgia

Holiday Meal at Morgan Elementary, Bibb County Schools, Georgia

Morgan Elementary selected this handsome student to present their Holiday Meal complete with a spring of holly. The Holiday Meal included Savory Turkey and Dressing with Gravy, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Holiday Fruit Salad, Cranberry Sauce, Whole Grain Hot Roll and a variety of Cold Milk.” The student is handsome and the food looks delicious. Bibb County is offering a free breakfast and lunch to all students using the Community Eligibility Provision. For some students, this will be one of their most festive and nutrition meals of the season.

Soup and Grilled Cheese, A SUPER Meal at Hartley Elementary, Bibb County, Georgia

Soup and Grilled Cheese, A SUPER Meal at Hartley Elementary, Bibb County, Georgia

I’m now sure if the photographer posed this photo on purpose, but the student sure looks SUPER excited to enjoy his SOUP-ER meal. On the “Fifth Day of Great School Meals,” Hartley Elementary served hot house-made vegetable soup with a crispy grilled cheese sandwich,golden baked ‘fries,” fresh grapes and cold fat-free milk.

Looks like SMILES all around in Bibb County School Nutrition Department – where I’m certain the food tastes as good as it looks!

 

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: From Sea to Tray in Less Than 36 Hours

While farm to school efforts are well established for fruits and vegetables in most states, other food groups are just now gearing up for local school delivery. We know about a few fledging efforts to bring local grains to school meal programs, like grits in Burke County, Georgia, and barley in Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon. Thanks to FoodCorps Montana, Montana beef for Montana schools is becoming a reality – and other districts are sourcing local pork and poultry. Of course, fresh milk is a local product, moving from dairy farm to school carton in as little as two days.

Through innovative partnerships in a few coastal states, schools are now being able to serve fresh local fish to their customers. Students in Oyster River (NH) School District enjoyed that experience yesterday and Director Doris Demers was thrilled. The Acadian Redfish was caught by local fisherman on Wednesday morning, then 100 pounds were fileted and delivered to her schools on Wednesday afternoon by Tri-State Seafood.

Fresh Acadian Redfish Fillets, 2 oz. each

Fresh Acadian Redfish Fillets, 2 oz. each

By Thursday lunch, they were on the trays of lucky students throughout the district. This tray from Mast Way Elementary in Lee (NH), prepared and photographed by Manager Jess, includes brown rice and carrots, as well as fruit and veggies from the daily produce bar.

Fresh Acadian Redfish Lunch, Mast way Elementary, Lee, NH

Fresh Acadian Redfish Lunch, Mast way Elementary, Lee, NH

Each school cook had the option of preparing the fish ‘to taste’ in their kitchen, using a basic recipe with broccoli and cheese supplied by Director Demers. At Moharimet Elementary, Chef Michael used the broccoli as a stuffing and sprinkled the fillets with cheese before baking.

Stuffed Acadian Redfish Fillets, Moharimet Elementary School, New Hampshire

Stuffed Acadian Redfish Fillets, Moharimet Elementary School, New Hampshire

Chef’s Michael’s creation was very popular – 68 students chose the redfish hot lunch with similar side dishes to Mast Way. Teachers and families were also very positive about local fish lunches, which is a real boost to local fisherman. The Acadian Redfish, served in four New Hampshire district this week is a partnership with UNH Cooperative Extension.

Acadian Redfish School Lunch, Moharimet Elementary, New Hampshire

Acadian Redfish School Lunch, Moharimet Elementary, New Hampshire

At Oyster River High School, the fish meal was served on real plates because, according to Demers, it was “a very special day.” One student’s review of his redfish – “Excellent!

Acadian RedFish, Oyster River High School, Durham, New Hampshire

Acadian RedFish, Oyster River High School, Durham, New Hampshire

With this #RealSchoolFood lunch, Oyster River Child Nutrition joins districts in Alaska, Oregon and Massachusetts in the boat to school movement. They also live up up to their logo: HEALTHY. LOCAL. FRESH. 

Oyster River Child Nutrition, New Hampshire

Oyster River Child Nutrition, New Hampshire

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Create a Hashtag, Get a Music Video

The Marketing Group at Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services went out on limb – and there was some fruit there! There was also some veggies, a Hummus Plate and most unexpectedly, a #RealSchool Food music video! They created the hashtag #LoveMySchoolLunch and promoted it a selected number of “Social Supervisor Stars” for a social media campaign on Thursday, December 11th, 2014, using this flyer.

#LoveMySchoolLunch Promotional Flyer

#LoveMySchoolLunch Promotional Flyer

We’re quite impressed with their effort and the result! Honestly, it was a bit of gutsy move, especially since the Food and Child Nutrition Services does not have their own Twitter account yet (one is in the works)! lack of their own Twitter account made it difficult to push their photos out broadly – aka amplify #LoveMySchoolLunch. They did get some nice photos and comments. One student said that this lunch was “the best part of her day.”

#RealSchoolFood #LoveMySchoolLunch from a Dallas ISD Student

#RealSchoolFood #LoveMySchoolLunch from a Dallas ISD Student

There was also some love for #RealSchoolFood from staff members. This Hummus Plate got a mention from someone in Dallas ISD Health/PE.

Hummus Veggie Plate, Dallas ISD

Hummus Veggie Plate, Dallas ISD

Most impressive of all was a music video set to Mariah Carey’s Fantasy, made by princebradley on a new-to-us iPhone app, musical.ly/. It’s very short and you’ll probably want to see more of the food, but it gives a very positive few of teens moving through a school cafeteria line. It’s definitely worth a few seconds of your time at www.musical.ly/v/MzI5ODE2MDE3Mw.html

Student made #LoveMySchoolLunch video

Student made #LoveMySchoolLunch video

And, that’s the thing about social media – you can’t control what you get. All in all #LoveMySchoolLunch was a success for Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services. You can use the hashtag in your district and build on what Dallas did – or create your own hashtag and see what happens!

 

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: @SchoolLunch now served in Twitterverse

A mere 12 months ago you would have been hard pressed to find #SchoolLunch on Twitter. The School Nutrition Association has been tweeting from @SchoolLunch since August 2008 and they have an impressive 20,600+ followers and nearly 5,600 tweets to show for it.

One of the most recent #SchoolLunch tweeters is @FTStarExpress from Star Express Child Nutrition Department, Indianapolis, Indiana. While they only have 18 followers and 50 tweets, they has destined for great things based on the photo they tweeted today of their holiday food displays. WOW is pretty much all we can say!

Great job with tweet + photo

Great job with tweet + photo

@FTStarExpress is definitely smart to tweet photos. A 2013 study of random selected tweets revealed that ones with photos were almost TWICE as like to be retweeted. @AmyNichols15, School Food Director in South Haven, Michigan, has been serving #RealSchoolFood on Twitter with some great photos. Here’s what was on the #SchoolBreakfast cart this morning!

Great 'action' shot of a #SchoolBreakfast cart

Great ‘action’ shot of a #SchoolBreakfast cart

Sharon Schaefer, SNS (and classically trained chef) tweeting @westside_lunch for Westside High School, Omaha, Nebraska, has been doing a great job with eye-appealing #SchoolLunch meals that are worthy of an upscale bistro. She now has 338 tweets and 142 followers – with more to come soon, we are certain!

Mandarin Salad Lunch in Westside Cafe, Westside High School, Omaha, Nebraska

Mandarin Salad Lunch in Westside Cafe, Westside High School, Omaha, Nebraska

Since there’s no way to show ALL the #SchoolLunch Twitter accounts that we follow here, we’ve created a TWITTER LIST of all the #RealSchoolFood folks. It is called, not surprisingly, RealSchoolFood – you can subscribe by going to this link: https://twitter.com/SchoolMealsRock/lists/realschoolfood. Hope to meet you for #SchoolLunch in the Twitterverse!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Fresh Fruits & Veggies in the Classroom

This is the photo that inspired today’s post. When it comes to school meals, most people think of the National School Lunch Program. Some know about School Breakfast and the recently added suppers in some low-income districts. Many fewer know about the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) that allowed Cindy Shepherd to serve this awesome vegetable to students in Parkside Elementary School, School Nutrition Program in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Romanesco, Parkside Elementary, Grants Pass, Orgeon

Romanesco, Parkside Elementary School, Grants Pass, Oregon

I’ve actually been wanting to write about Cindy for a while because she is one of my school nutrition heroes. She has been with the Grants Pass School Food and Nutrition Service Program for the last 9 years and has been Kitchen Manager at Parkside for 5 school years. Every photo and email that she sends shines with her dedication to serving the best possible meals and FFVP snacks to the 450 students (K-5) at Parkside, like these gorgeous FFVP choices from January 2014.

Pears and Purple Cauliflower, Parkside Elementary School, Grants Pass, Oregon

Pears and Purple Cauliflower, Parkside Elementary School, Grants Pass, Oregon

All of the FFVP snacks in Parkside are beautifully presented, reflecting Cindy’s love of food and her desire to make new foods appealing to young children. Here’s the program in her own words: “On Tuesdays and Thursdays we send out trays filled with both a fruit and a vegetable for the schools FFVP nutrition break, 900 servings are ready to go at 7 AM.” That’s right folks – 900 servings of gorgeous eye-appleaing fruits and veggie twice a week to children who may have never tasted, or even seen, these produce items.

Parkside FFVP Snack Examples (2012)

Parkside FFVP Snack Examples (2012)

Parkside Elementary currently serves all students free breakfast and free lunch through USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision, last year 82 percent of students received free or reduced-priced meals. According to USDA, “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is a federally assisted program providing free fresh fruits and vegetables to students in participating elementary schools during the school day. The goal of the FFVP is to improve children’s overall diet and create healthier eating habits to impact their present and future health. The FFVP will help schools create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices; expanding the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience; and increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption.” More details on USDA’s FFVP Fact Sheet.

Clearly Cindy Shepherd is meeting those FFVP goals – and more – at Parkside Elementary. Here’s a collage of students and teachers experiencing a Cuke-a-saurus for the first time in a 2013 FFVP Snack! Have you ever had one? Might be time to try!

Cuke-asaurus (aka Horned Melon), Parkside Elementary, Grants Pass, Oregon

Cuke-asaurus (aka Horned Melon), Parkside Elementary, Grants Pass, Oregon

 

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Pinterest is THE Place

Every time there’s a wave of ‘bad school lunch’ photos, like #ThanksMichelleObama (which mostly backfired due to a poor choice of hashtags), people look to School Meals That Rock to respond. Now, thanks to our packed Pinterest page, we can! Thanks to lots of photos from across the USA, we now have 86 boards, 2,618 pins and 1,618 followers.

While we are proud of these numbers, we are not just trying to brag. School food Pinterest boards, like ours, can be incredibly useful when promoting #RealSchoolFood. Just today, a client wanted to know what school salad bars look like, so I directed her to our board School SALAD BARS That Rock. There she could see 40 colorful produce bars in schools from Washington state to Florida. (You could use this page to get some inspiration for upping the game on your local salad bar too!)

School Meals That Rock PINTEREST, School SALAD BARS That Rock (12-2014)

School Meals That Rock PINTEREST, School SALAD BARS That Rock (12-2014)

Or say someone asked you about the fruit choices available in schools? Our most recent pin is the incredible fruit display you see below from one of our district boards CANYONS SCHOOL DISTRICT, Utah, Rocks. This district, along with 17 others and The John Stalker Institute (Massachusetts) have boards on our page. They can pin photos directly to the board and then share their unique URL, like this one for Gooding Idaho Schools (www.pinterest.com/schoolmealsrock/gooding-idaho-school-meals-that-rock/) with their customers and colleagues.

High School Fruit Prep, Canyons School District, Utah

High School Fruit Prep, Canyons School District, Utah

If you’d like a board on School Meals That Rock Pinterest page, send an email to SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com WITH the email address used in your Pinterest account. We’ll get you set up with a board asap and you can pin away.

The good news is School Meals That Rocks is not the only Pinterest page in the school food game. Here are three recommendations – if you know of others that we should be following, please let us know.

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Seasonal Food Art Made Easy

Want to spiff up the food art on your school cafeteria lines? We have one simple tip for you: Follow the award-winning Provo (UT) School District Child Nutrition Services on Facebook and Pinterest. Known by their slogan ITSMeals at Provo School District, this district does an amazing job of using food art to make their delicious, nutritious meals even more appealing to their customers. This fresh mushroom snowman showed up on the lunch lines last week at Dixon Middle School. The scarf is a veggie too, tomato skin!

Mushroom Snowman, Dixon Middle School, Provo, Utah

Mushroom Snowman, Dixon Middle School, Provo, Utah

While ITSMeals at Provo School District features plenty of more time-consuming food sculptures, like pineapple alligators and melon witches at Halloween, much of their food holiday is quick and easy. These non-candy canes are just slices of banana and strawberries. If you staff is stretched too thin to make them for a hundred breakfasts, you can make just a few to decorate the line.

Super Simple Banana-Strawberry Canes, Provo School District, Utah

Super Simple Banana-Strawberry Canes, Provo School District, Utah

And, what’s not to love about a Grinch Kebob? Again, with limited staff time, consider asking some volunteers to help you make some Fruit Grinches – maybe a high school club or FACS class. Or perhaps your PTA/PTO or other parent group? Concerned about sticks with small children? No worries – use a plastic straw or stir stick!

Fruit Grinches on a Stick, Provo School District, Utah

Fruit Grinches on a Stick, Provo School District, Utah

So, our holiday food art tip is simple: Follow the award-winning ITSMeals at Provo school District on Facebook and Pinterest. We are easier to see what their talented staff comes up with these year!

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Celebrating the Season

Yesterday’s focus on pizza made us think of Elf on the Shelf at school. What’s the connection you ask? It’s the dedicated and creative folks at Billerica (MA) Public Schools Nutrition Services, headed up by April M. Laskey, SNS, Director of School Nutrition and Dina Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator. Yesterday Jimmy the Kitchen Elf, from the Kennedy Elementary School enjoyed pizza, milk, yummy salad and an apple with his reindeer friend. What a fun way to connect school meals to seasonal fun that students may also be doing at home.

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves were showing up all over Billerica Nutrition Services this week. On Thursday, as part of Massachusetts Harvest of the Month and BPS Taste it Thursday even the Elf on the Shelf got his yummy roasted carrot ‘fries.’

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Some of Billerica’s everyday ingredients look positively festive. This lovely Kale Garbanzo Bean Salad is simply dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This would look fabulous on a holiday cafeteria line.

Kale Chickpea Salad

Kale Chickpea Salad

Last December, I had the great pleasure of visiting April and Dina – and eating lunch at Frederick J. Dutile Elementary School. I know it was a special occasion – and, I also know that they regularly make colorful appealing vegetable trays like this for their customers (who really dug into this one!).

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Even the logo for Billerica Schools Nutrition Services is bright and festive! Be sure and follow this dedicate team of school nutrition professionals on Facebook. Happy holidays!

Billerica logo2