School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Chad and the Decorah Community!

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Chad Elliott, has been the Nutrition Director and Culinary Specialist in Decorah Community School District for 10 years. The district has an enrollment of 1,600 students (approximately 20 percent) in a town of about 6,000 in rural northeast Iowa. When school were closed, the Decorah team packed 5 lunches and 5 breakfasts for pick up and delivery. The nutrition department also delivered meals to families in need when bus drivers were not available. Decorah schools have been back in session full-time since January 2021 with a few families still picking up five day meal packs for remote learners. Participation has not yet returned to pre-COVID levels and Chad is hopeful that they will be able to get back to full-service nutrition next year.

Homemade breakfast pizza with juice and yogurt

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

According to Chad, the availability of product was the biggest challenge for their department over the past year. When they needed non-perishable, pre-portioned meal components, they could not get them from their main purveyor. Disposable items for packing food items were also in short supply and unpredictable when ordered. Fortunately northeast Iowa is a mecca for local food and the Decorah Community School District (DCSD) is fortunate to have locally produced foods on their menus every day. When products were unavailable from their usual distributor, local farmers and producers provided items through the Iowa Food Hub that the school could use in grab and go bags. These items included cheese curds, yogurt, meat stick, and a variety of vegetables.

Local farmers and producers provide products for bulk meals in 2020

DCSD had extensive school gardens and grow houses that provided produce for school meals in years past. Production from these programs suffered during COVID but Chad and his staff are eagerly looking forward to onions, Bibb lettuce, beet greens and many herbs this spring. DCSD has been famous for many scratch-cooked items; these herb bread and rolls served on April 8, 2021, shows that the tradition continues.

Bread and rolls with parsley and thyme

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

I cannot express how proud I am of our nutrition staff,” says Chad Elliott. When fear of the unknown was rampant, the nutrition employees stepped up and selflessly changed their work schedules and hours so meals could get prepared and handed out to families in need. When schools shut down for remote learning, nutrition staff remained flexible and continued to build meals each day for deliveries to students, often using their personal vehicles each day due to the lack of available bus drivers. Nutrition department employees have clearly embraced one of Chad’s favorite Martin Luther King’s quotes: The time is always right to do what’s right.

Decorah nutrition employees

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Before COVID-19, Decorah had done minimal cross-training in the district’s six kitchens. Over the past year, they increased their cross-training by necessity – in order to maintain service throughout the district. Cross training is now something that they use to open up staff to new strategies, positions and ways to get things done. It has given employees a new perspective and appreciation for the work being done in other kitchens.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Doug, Heather and Burlington’s Team!

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Doug Davis, SNS, Food Service Director, and Heather Torrey, MS, RD, SNS, Assistant Director, have been working together at Burlington School Food Project for the past four school years. The district has 4,000 enrolled students with about 50 percent being eligible for free/reduced meals pre-pandemic, when their ADP was 65 percent at both breakfast and lunch. Even though both Heather and Doug were out of state when COVID-19 hit, within 48 hours of school closures they were serving meals using a completely new service model. The forty department employees were divided into pods of 10 and they started serving one bag with one day of meals curbside for approximately 500 students, plus meals for the homeless housed in local hotels (3 meals a day, 7 days per week). Both Doug and Heather admit that things were very tough in the beginning and they were able to make it through because of extraordinary assistance from other school employees, like the paraprofessionals who organized and staffed food distribution points. They also deeply appreciate the support for the Vermont state child nutrition agency and their food distributor Reinhart Foodservice LLC.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Doug and Heather are quick to acknowledge the operational challenges that were top-of-mind, especially in the first weeks of school closures. Like most other districts, they struggled with staffing issues, supply chain disruptions, and transportation concerns. However they also stress the underlying emotional challenges as well. Even though everyone was focused on the need to feed children, there was anxiety about a deadly disease with lots of unknowns for those who did not have an option to work remotely. Heather admits that she worried about “being the one to take out my whole team.”

Meal Kit distribution during a Vermont winter requires the right vehicles and equipment

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

The successes of the Burlington School Food Project over the past year demonstrate how a team came together, got work done and built a unique model to feed children. After a participation dip in the summer, the Burlington team is now distributing 20,000 quality meals per week in meal kits containing 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 suppers, and 7 snacks. There is a weekly vegetarian option, often based on foods reflecting the diversity of Burlington (where over 40 languages are spoken in a high school of 1,000 students). 

Although there were more unknowns than knowns over the year, Heather and Doug are not surprised about what the team was able to do. The Burlington School Food Project has worked hard to be integrated into the education process of the district and into sustainable agriculture in Vermont. In March 2021, they partnered with the local Couching Lion Maple Farm and distributed a Harvest of the Month maple syrup jug in every meal kit. The farm is owned by a teacher in the district, making more connections between education, local agriculture, and delicious meals for children. Moving forward, Burlington School Food Project plans more direct contact with Vermont farmers and food producers. Since they know that the Meal Box model will continue through September, they have started calling local farmers and food producers with a heads up about the volume the district will need so they can plan their planting and harvest schedule. “Leveraging buying power to support the local economy and provide high quality foods to our families has been — and will continue to be a core focus for our program.”

Couching Lion Maple Syrup, Vermont Harvest of the Month

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Rather than a procedure or a food product, the Burlington School Food Project will take a mindset into the future. As Doug Davis said, “I will never look at a problem or situation and think we cannot do that. I now know that there is nothing that we cannot do. We can meet any challenge.

Heather has a slightly different take: “I went back to my dietetics basics with the ADIME model to constantly assess what we are doing and how we can make it better. We started curbside meal service with one model, saw that we were not reaching as many folks as it should, and we switched it up. Now we’re in the M/E phase of our Family Meal Kits and make subtle tweaks each week to better meet the needs of our community.”

Classic and Vegetarian Meal Kits

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Tina Farmer #CCSDfam #CCSDserves!

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Tina Farmer, MBA, has been Director of School Nutrition in Cherokee County School District for 5 years. The district has over 42,000 enrolled students, with about 29 percent eligible for free/reduced-meals pre-pandemic, when they were serving approximately 22,000 lunches per day. On Friday, March 13, 2020,Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools requested that all departments, including School Nutrition, begin to plan for school closures. Tina and her staff immediately went to a curbside pickup model on Mondays, 5 days of meals per pack for all students who were completely digital at that point.

Cherokee was one of the first districts in GA (and probably the US) to return to in-school learning with 30,000 students (a quarter of students chose to continue learning remotely) on August 3, 2020. At this point half of students were eating in cafeterias, half were eating in the classroom, and curbside pickup was still available for remote learners.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Tina Farmer has a relentless can-do mindset but even she admits that the coping with multiple service models, often short staffed due to mandated precautionary quarantines, was a serious challenge. About 10% of Cherokee County students are still enrolled in digital learning and an average of 500 meals are picked up curbside. Under the ‘umbrella’ challenge of serving in several different locations and in several different ways are the issues of staffing, scheduling and menuing in 39 different school locations. A product or menu item that is designed for a cafeteria tray may not work well – or at all – for delivery to a classroom or bagged for a to-go situation.

Salads, Dean Rusk Middle School, August 2020

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Although there were plenty of challenges, Tina attributes the success of her program during COVID-19 to the perseverance of the Cherokee County School Nutrition staff – noting that they were able to pivot whenever the situation required. During the past year, the department often needed to pivot at a moment’s notice – as in ‘schools will shut down tomorrow’ so meals need to be prepared and available for curbside pick-up. Tina is not at all surprised that her staff members were able to rise to any situation, she is just very grateful!

In Cherokee County, the school district and the community have come together to meet student needs. The hashtags #CCSDfam and #CCSDserves accurately describe the mindset and spirit of everyone involved in education. They have also underscored the need for and value of school meals. In a January 2021 newsletter, Superintendent Hightower let families know how he values the work of School Nutrition staff with this message:

From Superintendent Hightower to district families

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Feeding 40,000 students during a pandemic necessitated many changes – sometimes with little notice. This meant that communication between nutrition site managers and families also needed to be upgraded. Tina credits the district communications team with helping her department create an efficient ordering system for meal pick and believes that the new electronic communication channels will enhance their ability to provide summer meals more efficiently.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Whitney and PPS Nutrition’s audacious goal!

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Whitney Ellersick, MS, RDN, has been Senior Director, Nutrition Services, at Portland (Oregon) Public Schools since 2017. The district serves just shy of 50,000 students; pre-pandemic, 13 of their neighborhood schools (30 percent) were CEP, this school year the number has risen to 50 CEP schools. Since March 2020, Portland Public Schools has only been serving about 1/3 of their usual meals, still over 800,000 meals. Starting April 1, 2021, they will gradually bring students back to school for in-person instruction but no students will be in school long enough to eat in the building. Whitney and her team will continue to distribute to-go meals throughout the district – with features like local, farm-to-school tamales from Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon.

Cheese and Green Chili Tamales from Tortilleria Y Tienda Leon

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

PPS Nutrition Team has had an audacious goal – “to be the most successful urban school district, to educate palates, inspire culinary curiosity, and nourish the health of the community through school meals.” Since 1995 PPS Nutrition Services has allowed students to have unlimited access to fruits and vegetables on salad bars, offered in a bulk, self-service style. PPS has also taken advantage of Portland’s unique food culture to collaborate with local producers and purveyors. Not wanting COVID19 to derail their vision and partnerships, the Nutrition Services team has worked hard to give students (and their families) the same experience with foods and recipes that they have worked so hard to incorporate over the past two decades.

Root Vegetables

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Like all other districts PPS had to ‘pivot’ rapidly in response to Covid19. Just before school closures in March 2020, PPS pulled all salad bar foods behind the service line and served the students to prevent high touch points. Since school closed, PPS Nutrition Services had to find creative ways of packaging fresh fruits and vegetables for curbside, grab-and-go, and home meal delivery services. They continued to offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables wherever possible. With help from grants, they purchased bagging machines so school teams can bag bulk, raw vegetables. As you see in this PowerPoint thank you from a student their efforts have been appreciated.

A Thank You to Food Deliverers from student Josh (shared with permission)

Whitney challenged her team to do more, from serving 7 days of breakfasts and lunches to adding supper and increasing to 7 days of supper meals. They also added a weekly fresh fruit or vegetable through their USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grants. During distance learning, nutrition education handouts and resources are available to families on the Nutrition Services website.

Rainbow Carrots

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Rather than a specific innovation in procedures or meals, Whitney mentions the collaboration and communication with other PPS departments that developed during COVID19. She hopes that Nutrition Services can build upon their pandemic experiences to work more closely with their colleagues throughout the district. School food has been on the PPS frontlines for more than a year and there dedication has been noticed by administrators, educators, families and students.

Cara Cara Oranges: Fruit of the Week

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Angie, Maria and Roseville schools!

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Angie Richey, MPH, RD, SNS (Supervisor) and Maria Anderson, MS, RD, SNS (Coordinator) manage two public school districts and five joint agreement schools north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their district with the highest need, Roseville Area Schools, serve 7,300 students, down a few hundred from pre-pandemic levels when 47 percent of students qualified for free/reduced meals. Since March 2020 they have provided daily meal pickups at bus stops and schools curbside, plus home delivery via two trucks and a bus (a total of 919,000+ meals thru January 2021). They are just beginning to bring secondary (7-12) students back into buildings and are planning to continue meals for virtual learners as necessary.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Angie and Maria agree that the “mental load” of the pandemic was a big challenge. It was difficult – and scary – to keep 80 staff members safe, feeling valued and motivated. There was also an issue with monotony: Pre-COVID the district had been digging deep into scratch cooking, processing fresh veggies and introducing new items to students. With a 3-three week menu cycle and all meals being prepacked, workers were bored – handing out meals curbside was a coveted position because you could see students! Realizing the problem enabled Angie and Maria to provide hazard-pay for some positions – and to encourage changes like relaxation of the uniform policy and smaller celebrations like Hawaii Day. A little fun went a long way to improving attitudes!

Hawaii Day lifts spirits during a Minnesota winter

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

By taking an equity lens to food distribution, Roseville Area Schools were able support a food security safety net for entire community, especially for the most vulnerable families. They were able to ensure that no students fell through the cracks – and, through partnerships, like Second Harvest Heartland food bank and Minnesota Central Kitchen (employing laid-off restaurant workers), to feed families as well with Roseville Family Table Meals. Since many families in the district had little to no kitchen equipment, Angie and Maria made the decision to provide microwaveable meals rather than kits.

Fortunately, they have still been able to use local foods from farmers and producers within 300 miles of Roseville. Their meals are loaded with local carrots, green beans, radishes, apples and more (when seasonally available). They have also been able to continue a partnership with Ferndale Market to provide local turkey wieners and hot dogs. They know that supporting local growers is even more important during difficult times when many restaurant outlets have been closed. Angie and Maria’s future plans include more direct purchasing, more local grains and processed foods, and more Minnesota Thursday meals.

Microwaveable meals introduce new products and foods to Roseville families

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Roseville Area School Nutrition Services plans to continue a renewed focus on food security and its greater impact in the lives of women – at home and in the workforce. They plan to expand their partnership with the high school-based Food Shelf Program  to help connect families with more than just food needs. Looking forward, their motto is “if our Nutrition Services Department cannot fill a gap, we will partner with those who can.”

Winter meals bundles include new offerings to combat menu fatigue

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year of grace for Jessica Shelly and CPS

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Jessica Shelly, MBA, SNS, REHS, is coming up on her 11th anniversary as Director, Student Dining Services for Cincinnati Public Schools, which now has 36,000 students (down from 40,000, 83.5 percent free-reduced pre-pandemic). The department provided 3.8 million meals from March 2020 through March 2021 – and is now getting ready to support in-school learning five days per week as students return from spring break.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Jessica Shelly and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) have a well-deserved reputation as nutrition super stars in the school world: salad bars in every school packed with as much local produce as possible, going above and beyond to lower sugar and sodium in purchased products, early adoption of Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s School Beverage and Competitive Food Guidelines – list goes on and on. This was – and is – a department called ‘award-winning’ by local, regional and national agencies.

Jessica Shelly, always focused on feeding children

When COVID closed schools and disrupted food distribution channels, Jessica was again a super star. CPS Student Dining Services actually had a pandemic plan; Jessica ‘dusted’ off the folder, made updates and went right to work in her own department (and helping other districts across the country). However it quickly because clear that CPS was not going to be able to maintain all the standards that they were so proud of – starting with salad bars with multiple options of local produce! They needed to give themselves (and others) grace – to press the pause button on amazing changes and to do what they needed to do to keep food, students, and staff safe. They focused on the ‘prize’ that mattered most: Feeding all the students they possibly could with the best options available. They knew they might not be serving all the meals they did pre-COVID and that this food would mean the world to the families they could serve.

When students could not get to food, CPS took the food to them

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

By working with the CPS incident team, Cincinnati City Hall, and local companies with the demographic data they needed, Student Dining Services was able to insure that no CPS child was more than 1 mile from a food distribution point. Better still, many of these one-stop points also distributed other food and supplies for families in need – because partnerships and trusting relationships were developed as they learned to move quickly. They were also able to keep all their food service staff gainfully employed and, with more flexible scheduling, to offer more professional development leading to a better trained workforce.

Student Dining Services has maintained staff and added professional development

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Usually in Jessica’s district, like many others, it has been hard to initiate change and break out of existing molds. During the pandemic, their willingness to ‘lean into’ new ways of doing business, sometimes within hours, has made them more effective and efficient than ever before. Jessica believes that they can tackle anything as a team, that the WHAT IFS can now become realities quickly. What if we could offer winter/spring break meals, what if we could partner with the food bank, what if we support more local Ohio Proud farmers? Well now we can because our essential workers are trained, ready and willing to support student learning and success throughout CPS!

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Erin Primer, personally, professionally!

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Erin Primer, CDM, CFPP, has been Food at Nutrition Services Director the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) for five years. SLCUSD serves 7,500 students (35 percent free/reduced pre-lockdown, now approximately 40 percent) and served 30,000 per week before schools closed in March 2020. The district is a mostly agricultural area surrounding the city of San Luis Obispo and several small towns on the Central Coast of California.

Local farms in SLCUSD provide fresh options for pantry kits

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

If you had asked Erin Primer a year ago, “Can you operate SLCUSD Food and Nutrition Services from your home?,” she would have said that you were bonkers. And yet, that is exactly what she has done. Because she is immune-compromised, Erin had doctor’s orders to stay home. She has had to provide 100 percent remote leadership for 25 employees scattered in 15 schools throughout SLO county. While this has necessitated many changes, it has worked – and worked well! From March 2020 through February 2021, SLCUSD Nutrition Services provided one million meals to district families through drive-up, curbside locations. While Erin says she occasionally feels like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, she has learned how to lead successfully and maintain trust in non-physical ways.

One challenging year, one MILLION meals provided

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Ms. Primer is proud of her department’s resilience noting that school foodservice in general has not always been known for moving quickly or for being change makers. In SLCUSD Erin now knows that they are capable of responding to changes positively and they can literally do anything. Going into lockdown, many of her staff members were understandably afraid; now they now believe in their abilities to pivot quickly and effectively – even when “the boss” is not able to be present in person. Nutrition Services staff have learned to trust Erin and to trust themselves. This has led to some remarkable transformations – in their attitudes and in the foods they serve.

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Trust is very important to Erin Primer and she has worked for five years to build trusting relationships with local families and with local agricultural producers. She recognized that the pandemic lockdown presented opportunities as well as challenges – and that school food was going to be a frontline issue for families, farmers and ranchers. SLCUSD has always offered local foods and now they are laser focused on plant-forward, climate-friendly food options. All their weekly pantry-kits are packed with the freshest food possible and multiple serving ideas even for those with limited resources.

Creativity and taste will continue to be the focus of SCLUSD pantry boxes and in-school offerings. Erin has always wanted to move vegetarian options beyond boring cheese pizza – and she taken every opportunity to serve options like Thai Basil Lentil burgers, sandwiches with Strawberry Chia Jam and Jujube Snacks along with multi-colored radishes and beets (usually very locally-grown). Students and their families have become more willing to try things out because “they trust us. We have invited so many more folks into our program with school food that tastes great and supports the community.” Nutrition and culinary education, including National Nutrition Month Drive-Thru BINGO, are an important part of the ongoing plan as SLCUSD Nutrition Services continues to expand plant-forward, planet-friendly school food.

Mushrooms in Schools

I am thrilled to be at the United Fresh 2019 Convention & Expo in Chicago June 10th through 12th, on behalf of Mushrooms in Schools, one of my favorite clients.  As you have likely read in many places, mushrooms are on-trend! MarthaStewart.com declared  Mushrooms Are the Food of 2019: Here’s Why It’s Good News for Everyone.

Fresh vegetable medley for roasted vegetables and wraps in Birmingham Public Schools, Michigan

What you may not know is that school meal programs have been introducing the savory flavors of mushrooms and their nutritional benefits to the youngest foodies across the US. While pizza and salad bars remain the #1 way that students meet mushrooms in schools, they are also served in stir-fries and ramen bowls, on top of burgers and Philly steak sandwiches, and blended into taco and burrito fillings!

Why Mushrooms in Schools?

It is really quite simple: Sustainability, nutrition and flavor. Did you know that mushrooms are considered one of the most sustainably produced foods on the planet? Choosing mushrooms to enhance meat and vegetarian dishes is not only good for your health – it’s good for the planet because mushrooms require less water, energy, and land to produce than animal-based proteins. Mushrooms provide many of the same nutritional benefits as vegetables, as well as attributes commonly found in meat, beans and grains. They provide vital vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin D (read package for varieties that have been treated with UV light to boost levels of D), B-Vitamins, and antioxidants. And like most veggies, mushrooms are fat and cholesterol-free as well as very low in sodium. Mushrooms are filled with umani flavor, “a satisfying sense of deep, complete flavor, balancing savory flavors and full-bodied taste with distinctive qualities of aroma and mouthfeel” according to the Mushroom Council.

This kid-approved school lunch from POWER UP CAFÉ in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Texas, showcases a mushroom-pepper-onion trinity that can be blended with black beans (a shown here in street tacos), lentils, beef, pork, turkey or chicken. Using mushrooms in flavorful blends helps to increase vegetable intake while minimizing the amount of sodium needed for a delicious meal – that’s a win-win for school lunch!

Harvest of the Month in Farm to School Programs

Mushrooms grow year-round so they are perfect for farm to school programs and are especially useful during colder months when other produce items may not be readily available. Here is a delicious example from Philadelphia Public Schools where mushrooms were served as a February Harvest of the Month in both a green salad and a popular brown gravy over chicken and rice.

Mushrooms in Schools Resources

The Mushroom Council is creating a new Farm to School Toolkit to help schools connect their students to delicious new ways of enjoying mushrooms. You can download these creative materials on the Mushrooms in Schools website where you can also find delicious mushroom recipes for school lunch and videos for using the IQF Diced Mushrooms available from USDA Foods.

Donna Martin’s #FarmtoSchool Success in Burke County, Georgia

2017-04 Policy To Plate Donna

Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, addresses the 2016 Policy to Plate meeting in Washington, DC

On June 1, 2017, Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, became President of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. In this prestigious volunteer position Donna will lead over 100,000 credentialed practitioners including registered dietitian nutritionists, dietetic technicians, registered, and other dietetics professionals, into the second century of the Academy – focused on a global vision of “A world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.”

Donna’s day job is equally important: She is Director of the School Nutrition Program for Burke County Public Schools, Georgia. Donna’s passionate belief in the transformative power of nutrition is deeply felt in Burke County, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the US. She has brought local produce – and local whole grain grits – into the cafeterias and started farmers markets for families and school staff. Her work to transform school nutrition in rural Georgia was recognized the White House and, in April 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama and Al Roker visited Burke Middle School to help plant the school garden. Her efforts to reduce food waste and support local farmers were recognized with top honors in the 2016 Georgia Organics Gold Radish Awards.

I was fortunate to visit Burke County Schools in April 2017 to personally see (and taste) the fruits (and veggies) of Donna Martin’s labors. My day started with a delicious grab-n-go breakfast Yogurt Parfait featuring blueberries, strawberries and bananas at Burke County Middle School, followed by a classroom Charlie Cart nutrition-cooking lesson. The fourth graders made delicious mini-strawberry shortcakes from scratch – with local berries, of course. My next stop was the best – a Georgia Grown lunch at Waynesboro Primary School, featuring local White Acre peas, collards, strawberries, cornbread, chicken and milk. This was Southern school food at its best and, if you are ever near Waynesboro, Georgia, I highly recommend that you visit for lunch.

Waynesboro Lunch

Waynesboro Elementary School Georgia Grown School Lunch

Donna Martin has long been a role model for everyone in the Georgia School Nutrition Association. Now she is an inspiration to all Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members who want to be actively involved in transforming food systems across the country and around the world.

You can follow Harvest Bright, Burke County’s Farm to School Program on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Peanut Butter in School Meals (Sponsor: National Peanut Board)

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Kids love the great taste of peanut butter, and school nutrition professionals love the protein and other key nutrients of this American staple. Some schools, however, struggle with managing peanut products due to concerns about food allergies. Others are unsure of how to safe use peanut butter as an ingredient in meals beyond the typical PB&J. Here are answers to top questions about peanut products in school from Chef Garrett Berdan, RDN, and Dayle Hayes, MS, RD.

When it comes to managing food allergies, what resources do you recommend for school nutrition pros?

Garrett: Two main resources that I recommend are the Institute for Child Nutrition’s training on food allergy management, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Food Allergies in Schools Toolkit. Also, resources that are available linked from PeanutAllergyFacts.org, including training videos for school nutrition professionals.

How can school nutrition pros leverage the culinary versatility of peanuts and peanut butter to help improve school meals?

Garrett: If we can look at it as a protein component to serve on the side with some dippables, that’s always a fun thing for especially younger kids to enjoy. That could be any variety of fruits for dipping into peanut butter. From apples and pears and banana, but also think of peanut butter as a dip for veggies like carrots and celery, and even bell pepper strips.

The flavor of peanuts is really on trend now in cuisine that we see outside of schools. Certainly, with Southeast Asian flavor profiles, peanuts and peanut sauce are an important flavor aspect of those cuisines. Those can be easily integrated onto a school menu with dishes like noodles with a peanut sauce, or maybe a chilled veggie and noodle salad. That definitely takes things beyond the peanut butter and jelly.

NoodlesPeanutSauce

Peanut Sauce with Noodles: Recipe video available at goo.gl/qx3aJn

What is your favorite preparation for peanut butter being used in school meals?

Dayle: The thing that I’m most excited about is what people are calling power packs or grab and go meals. The ones I’ve seen often include an individual container of peanut butter along with pita bread, pita chips, or whole grain crackers. Then some sliced apples, maybe some baby carrots or celery sticks, and often an added protein source like a cheese stick.

How does peanut butter help lower costs for school nutrition programs?

Dayle: School nutrition programs are very limited in terms of overall food costs and often pennies per serving can make a difference in balancing budgets. For consumers and foodservice channels, peanuts and peanut butter are often always listed as one of the least expensive protein sources. It compares so favorably with the cost of other proteins. When you reduce the cost of the meat or the meat alternate in the “center of the tray,” then you have more food dollars for fresh produce and other local items. Farm to School is one of the fastest growing areas of school nutrition programs and any money that directors have to spend in purchasing local products works to their benefit.

GrabGoPeanutSauce

What nutritional benefits do peanuts and peanut butter provide for school aged children?

Dayle: Protein is one of the most obvious nutritional benefits of peanuts and peanut butter for children. The unsaturated fat plus the protein provides satiety in a meal or snack. Peanut products can offer an extended source of energy for children’s physical activity and for their brain activity too.

In addition to protein, there are three other nutrients that I always think about in terms of school-age children. One is potassium. Potassium is one of the nutrients of concern that health experts know we’re not getting enough of for our everyday needs, and peanut butter has potassium in it. In fact, one serving (one ounce) of peanuts provides 6 percent of the daily value and one serving (2 Tablespoons) of peanut butter provides 5 percent of the daily value. Also, peanut butter pairs well with some other kid-friendly, high potassium foods like apples and celery.

Peanuts and peanut butter are also a source of fiber as well. One serving of peanuts contain 10 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter has 8 percent of the daily value. Because most of the meat alternate foods do not have any fiber in them, this combination of protein, potassium, and fiber is great.

The other nutrient in peanuts and peanut butter I want to mention is iron, because in the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Scientific Advisory Committee called out iron as a nutrient of concern for girls and young women. One serving of peanuts provides 7 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter provides 3 percent of the daily value. Any time we can find a source of iron that students like to eat it’s a win-win situation in terms of their nutrition.

PBJ

Preparing Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches in School Foodservice: Video at goo.gl/kuNiIk