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! 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.

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Recipes from Commodity Boards

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Just three more days to wrap up 31 Days of #RealSchoolFood – and I want to continue sharing school recipe resources. There’s no reason to spend time reinventing recipes that have already been developed. Your valuable time is much better spent making farm to school contacts, arranging culinary training for your staff or providing nutrition education to students.

Rather than starting from zero with a new menu item, find an existing recipe – and adapt it, if necessary, to fit the needs of your customers. Commodity boards – the marketing side of agricultural producer groups – are delicious sources of school recipes. They are eager to have schools incorporate their products into school meals – and offer lots of creative recipes to help you do that. The Mushroom Council has gone all out with a website devoted to Mushrooms in Schools, where they offer newsletters, success stories, complete menus and wonderful recipes. This Vegetable Flatbread offers a colorful combo of on-trend veggies and is perfect for Meatless Mondays.

Vegetable Flatbread

NOTE: Both Malissa Marsden, my webinar co-presenter, and I consult for The Mushroom Council. You can also find more mushroom inspiration on the School Meals That Rock Pinterest page on the Mushrooms in Schools board.

Speaking of olives, Malissa has also helped the California Olive Committee create some really outstanding recipes. Many of them, like this Southwestern Stuffed Baked Potato, are very cost-effective because they use multiple USDA Foods in one recipe. There are recipes for all grade levels and all taste buds. All the K-12 California Ripe Olive Recipes are designed to meet current meal pattern guidelines – and to please your most discerning customers!


I’ll cover some protein commodity groups, including beef, eggs and dairy, tomorrow. Here are two others that have outstanding resources for school nutrition professionals.

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.