Going Green from the Inside Out

Best wishes for healthy Happy St. Patrick’s Day filled with the luck of the Irish and lots of naturally green vegetables. 

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  • Want fabulous posters of GREEN VEGGIES and more for your school or office?       Visit USDA Team Nutrition Dig in Program – and poster page for downloads.
  • One example of fabulous Dig In Posters from USDA Team Nutrition

    One example of fabulous Dig In Posters from USDA Team Nutrition

    Want the latest updates and fun tips on GREEN VEGGIES in school and more? Follow us on Twitter: @SchoolMealsRock 

Kale Chips for 8,000 and Other Farm-to-School Successes

A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post Green on October 14, 2013

The real food deliciousness of Farm to School efforts benefits everyone: The farmers and ranchers who grow food for local districts, school nutrition directors who know exactly where their food comes from, and – most of all – millions of students who enjoy fresh food right on their school trays.

The three pillars of a sustainable farm to school program are generally seen as Cafeteria, Classroom and Community. But there is fourth, equally important C – Champions! Successful farm to school programs are started, nurtured and harvested by champions at every step from the field to table. Here’s how three directors – three very cool school lunch dudes – from Maine to Montana are growing impressive farm to school numbers.

Thanks to Nutrition Services director Tyler Goodwin, students in the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District on the coast of southern Maine have a personal relationship produce on their lunch trays. It comes from the Spiller Farm, just two miles down the road and students help to pick it, clean it and prepare it. During September 2013 trips to the farm, hundreds of school kids picked 15 bushels (450 pounds) of green beans, 18 bushels (900 pounds) of red potatoes and 15 bushels (720 pounds) of apples (enough to supply the entire District for the next several months).

Maine student pick produce in local fields

Maine student pick produce in local fields

In fall 2013, Chef Tyler froze 10 bushels of carrots, also picked by student helpers. The final yield was 450 pounds of freshly picked, lightly steamed, very local frozen carrots for winter meals like veggie stir-fry, peas-n-carrots and candied carrots. Total time from field to freezer was less than four days, with a substantial decrease in overall carbon footprint. The environmental impact is important to the district’s Green Team, headed by 7th grade science teacher Saul Lindauer. The team is learning about and working to support centuries of farming heritage in Wells. According to Goodwin, fresh local produce makes a real difference in cafeterias too. “What I have noticed in all schools is healthier choices being made, kids are automatically selecting the required fruit or vegetable with lunch, and less waste than last year,” he reports.

Deep in the apple orchards of Central Michigan, Dan Gorman, Food Service Director in Montague/Whitehall Schools focused on some big farm to school numbers too – world record numbers in this case! On October 24, 2013, he and the districts’ 4,000 students – plus at least 14,000 more in Muskegon County – regained the World Record for the “most people simultaneously eating an apple at one time.” Muskegon County held the world record (9,329) until last May when children in New Zealand schools upped it to 17,064 with the help of an apple company. Now the Michigan apple crunchers are back on top of the world record with 19,087!!

Michigan students love their apples!!

Whitehall, Michigan, students love their apples!!

Promoting healthy snacking, supporting local agriculture and generating record-breaking excitement are just some of Dan’s everyday efforts to bring fresh, local food to kids. When he switched the district’s milk contract to a local dairy that raises its own cows and crops, the farm was able to hire four new workers. In the elementary cafeterias, monthly Harvest Days highlight Michigan fruits, vegetables and herbs. Students get to touch, smell and taste fresh items with their lunch, guided by an adult community member or high school mentor. As chair of the 1 in 21 Education Committee, Gorman is – as always – focused on a much bigger goal. “Going for a world record is as American as apple pie, but the more important goal is making Muskegon county the healthiest county in Michigan by 2021,” he says.

Now, about the kale chips for 8,000: It happened for the second time on October 2, 2013, to celebrate National Kale Day in Missoula County Public Schools, Montana. In 2012, on a ‘dare’ from Jason Mandela of the PEAS (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society) Farm, Food and Nutrition Supervisor Ed Christensen offered baked kale chips to every student in the district. While not shy about saying his kale chips are “the best,” Ed was impressed by how much the kids liked them. “It’s really pretty simple,” he says. “We use freshly picked kale, toss it with oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake slowly.” While olive oil adds nutty flavor and USDA commodity oil works fine, Christensen also likes to use Montana-grown safflower on his kale chips.

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Kale is big on Christensen’s local veggie list because it’s so hardy, often the last thing harvested from the PEAS Farm. Chips are a great way to serve kale because they are like potato chips to kids. On a recent ‘smack down’ with a tasty raw kale salad, the crunchy chips won hands down. During this year’s Kale-abration, Ed saw savvy 3rd graders crushing the chips onto their pizza. About that pizza, the crust is 100 percent scratch, whole grain made with local Wheat Montana Prairie Gold flour and turkey pepperoni. Missoula schools are currently developing a scratch sauce to incorporate house-grown onions and herbs. Clearly Ed wants to do farm to school as many ways as possible – in a place with a growing season of about four months!!

Being a school nutrition director is a tough enough job without adding all the extra details of a farm to school program. Despite the demands, thousands of directors across the U.S. have stepped up to the plate — or lunch tray — to do what Tyler, Dan and Ed do in their districts. Why? So students can have the freshest, best tasting, most nutritious meals possible and be fit, well-nourished and ready to succeed.

Follow Dayle Hayes, MS, RD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SchoolMealsRock

Eat. Play. Learn. Q is QUINOA.

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

Q is for QUINOA

There weren’t too many competitors for the Q word – and QUINOA has been popular in school breakfast and lunches as well as homes across the country. The versatile, gluten-free ‘pseudocereal’ is actually related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.

QUINOA is served in Provo (Utah) Public Schools as Black Bean, Corn and QUINOA Salad and in Windham-Raymond (Maine) Schools in a made-from-scratch Vegetable QUINOA Soup. The new cookbook from Vermont FEED – New School Cuisine Nutritious and Seasonal Recipes for School Cooks by School Cooks – features several yummy QUINOA recipes, including one for Carrot and QUINOA Muffins.

This recipe has been served Corvallis (OR) Farm to School events – and was recently very popular at a Corvallis High School Wellness event. In schools from coast to coast, students get to eat – and learn about – the hottest culinary and nutrition trends.

Corvallis (OR) Farm to School, Carrot, Black Bean, and Quinoa Wraps

Eat. Play. Learn. O is for OLYMPICS

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

O is for OLYMPICS

I am truly impressed by the dedication, commitment and love that most school nutrition professionals – or HEROES – have for their jobs and their customers. In a way, it’s rather like the dedication, commitment and love that athletes have for the Olympics. Lunch “ladies” and gentleman race around kitchens and cafeterias every day. Quickly changing menus when school is cancelled, figuring out substitutions when deliveries do not arrive, and then feeding hundreds of hungry children in a matter of minutes.

These every day heroes take the time to learn the students names – sometimes a manager will know the name and something personal about 400 or 500 students. They decorate their cafeterias and lines with artwork to educate and enjoy at the same time. This poster was one of several Olympic posters made by director Gen Armstrong, RD, for the Haines, Alaska, school district during the Olympic Games.

“Instead of changing the menus for the 2 weeks of the Olympics I just looked at the entree or when I was really struggling a condiment (like sour cream for Russia). I then drew their flag, listed how many medals they had going into the games, how many athletes, I then looked up a fact about the featured food, an athlete from there, and finally showed what a school lunch from that country would look like. After they have their day in the display they are taken down and hung around the cafeteria and will remain for the duration.”

Ms. Armstrong deserves a gold medal for her many achievements in the Haines Borough District. She serves Alaskan Farm-to-School produce on the salad bar – and fresh, made-from-scratch, locally-sourced mini crab cakes in the cafeterias. Now, that’s a school lunch that anyone could love. Thanks to Gen and to the thousands of school nutrition heroes for all the meals they serve – right now, somewhere in America, they area feeding the athletes training for Olympics 2018 and beyond. Go USA!

Haines (AK) Olympic Celebration

Haines (AK) Olympic Celebration

What’s the Real School Lunch News? 31+ Million American Children Get More Vegetables

What’s really sad about the recent article on the state of U.S. school lunch from the Fed Up campaign is that is so-five-years-ago. Using out-of-date statistics, misleading photos, and images that were not even from high schools, this campaign fails to expose the real truth about school lunch today – that it is awesome and kids are eating it up!

Personally, I’m fed-up with reports on school lunch that ignore the real revolution in cafeterias. Where have these school lunch critics been? Clearly not dining in the districts that are featuring produce from schools gardens – or doing farm-to-school, boat-to-school (in AK, OR and NH), and Montana’s recent beef-to-school campaign. What’s really happening in school lunch is that the nearly 32 million students who eat it daily are getting an incredible variety of often local, increasingly organic produce, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. According to the savvy school nutrition directors who observe their teen customers closely, they are eating it all up!!

Here’s a taste of what’s really happening with teens and school lunch in five Western districts of all sizes and demographics. It’s our first-in-a-series tour from coast-to-coast showcasing School Meals That Rock – today, with a special focus on teens and veggies.

In suburban Lake Stevens, Washington, Schools, just west of the Seattle, Calavero Mid-High piloted a “Build Your Own Salad Lunch” last spring and they now serve 65+ a day. They are expanding this concept to all middle/high schools in October: Students order a custom salad built from lean diced meats, shredded cheeses or seeds for protein, croutons or whole wheat bread-sticks for grain, and a colorful selection of fresh veggies (often local) and dried fruits.

Veggie toppings for a "Build Your Own Salad Lunch"

Lake Stevens veggie toppings for a “Build Your Own Salad Lunch”

Mixed salad lunch in a bowl

Lake Stevens customized salad lunch in a bowl

Down I-5, in Eugene, Oregon, Bethel School District, has developed a very impressive Harvest-of-the-Month program. Willamette Valley apples, pears, melons, carrots, bok choy, greens and much more show up on Bethel menus, in sandwiches and throughout variety bars (at least nine different vegetable choices daily at all grade levels).

Variety bar - at least nine veggie available daily

Willamette High School variety bar with regular farm to school options

Bethel Nutrition Services Summer Meal Program Sandwich

Bethel Nutrition Services Summer Meal Program Sandwich

In the Solvang, California, Viking Café, Chef Bethany Markee leads a real school food revolution, where they offer a made-from-scratch hot lunch along with grab-n-go options (entrée salads, wrap sandwiches or vegetarian cold items). Thanks to a partnership with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, the Viking Café is able to regularly serve fresh, organic produce and thanks to a new school herb garden, the seasonings will soon be very local as well.

Solvang Grab-n-Go Salads

Solvang Grab-n-Go Salads

Solvang produce bar often features "rescued" veggies

Solvang produce bar often features “rescued” veggies

Across the mountains in the Provo, Utah, Schools, Jenilee McComb, Director and Colleen Dietz, Assistant, have made a commitment to freshly prepared, locally sourced meals in this mid-size district just south of Salt Lake City. They proudly lists the farms and farmers who grow food for their kitchen, so that Provo students know where their food comes from – and taking a few extra seconds to make something look more appealing to the eye has made all the difference.

Provo Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara

Provo Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara

Provo Homemade Roast Pork and Mashed Potatoes

Provo Homemade Roast Pork and Mashed Potatoes

Up in Kalispell, Montana, Public Schools, another medium-sized district close to the Canadian border, Jennifer Montague agrees that presentation and freshness are the keys to getting teens to eat more fruits and vegetables. She believes that young people are discerning customers and they will choose fruits and vegetables if they look appealing and taste good on a regular basis.

Kalispell Hummus Grab-n-Go Salad

Kalispell Hummus Grab-n-Go Salad

Kalispell Rainbow Grab-n-Go Salads

Kalispell Rainbow Grab-n-Go Salads

I am all for getting teens – and even younger students – activated to improve school meals. That’s exactly what the Fuel Up to Play 60 and Alliance for a Healthy Generation programs have been doing for years – with great success. In fact, we have reached the tipping point in school nutrition – and it’s time to use photos like these to inspire lagging districts to make changes.

If you really want to do something, there is no need to use old data and misleading photos. Let’s spend our time showcasing what’s possible and support all school nutrition professionals in serving meals they way districts like Lake Stevens, Bethel, Solvang, Provo and Kalispell are already doing. Jennifer Montague said it best: “If you build it well, they will eat it.”