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.


S.M.I.L.E. for Kids: It’s 31 Days of #RealSchoolFood

The recent, but short-lived Twitter hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, was one more in a long series of efforts to vilify U.S. school nutrition programs. I’m not exactly sure why school meals continue to be a favorite target, but I do know that it’s now time to recognize the improvements and support the #RealSchoolFood enjoyed in thousands of school cafeterias every day.

The 2010 Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) – with new nutrition standards and revised meal patterns – means that schools are now leading the charge to improve the eating habits of American youth. And, the HHFKA is just one of many ‘ingredients’ making school meals something that lunch ladies and ‘food dudes’ are proud to serve from coast to coast. As Health Assistant Marlene Gleim says about Manager Loli Preciado and staff at Woodard Jr. High (Yuma (AZ) Child Nutrition Department), “These ladies cook as if you were going to eat in their actual home. Food made right from the heart!”

Salad Bar, Woodard Jr. High, Yuma, Arizona

Salad Bar, Woodard Jr. High, Yuma, Arizona

Does every school nutrition program deserve a five-star review? No. Is every school meal perfectly balanced? No. While there is room for improvement in some districts, bashing, blaming and pointing fingers doesn’t help. It merely perpetuates a stereotype that no longer represents the norm in school lunch or any other meal.

For the next 31 days, every day of December, School Meals That Rock will tell the #RealSchoolFood story with photos – from breakfast to supper, soup to nuts, farm to school, seed to salad bar and much more. Have concerns about food in your district? We’ll offer more specific ideas about what you can do to enhance the food served in any cafeteria.

Why? Because 20 million American children eat a free or reduced price school lunch every day. I believe that they deserve the best nutrition possible to fuel their education and their future. 

It's Only Nutrition When They Eat or Drink It

It’s Only Nutrition When They Eat or Drink It