Back-to-School with Peanuts

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I’ve consulted with the National Peanut Board and the Peanut Institute several times over the past decade. It is a natural partnership for several reasons: (1) I love peanuts and peanut butter; (2) My two children might not have grown into strong, healthy adults without peanut butter; and (3) Both organizations base all of their materials and recommendations on the most recent science. And now I have a fourth reason: My grandson Milo, now almost sixteen months old is getting to explore the wide world of delicious, nutritious foods – and I want to make certain that he experiences new foods safely and joyfully.

The great news for new parents is that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has updated guidelines for infants at different risk levels for developing of peanut allergies. The 2017 Addendum Guidelines, based on a landmark study, are designed for use by healthcare providers and parents. They suggest that the early introduction of peanut-containing foods (around four to six months of age) can lead to a major reduction in the development of peanut allergies. I’m grateful that my grandson Milo has happily been enjoying peanut butter “puffs” for over eight months.

I’m always disappointed when I learn that a school district has banned peanuts, peanut butter and peanut-containing foods and claims to be “peanut-free.” While I understand any parent’s desire to keep their children safe, I support realistic, effective policies that prevent peanut-allergic reactions and allow the 98 percent of children without these allergies to enjoy all delicious, nutritious, affordable food options. In my professional opinion, students with and without allergies are best served by policies that are comprehensive and evidence-based. Rather than complete bans – which can be unenforceable – I favor an “allergen aware” approach to serving potentially problematic foods.

The really important reason to allow peanuts and peanut butter in schools is their natural versatility in creating nutritious dishes that students love to eat for school breakfast, lunch, snacks and supper. The recipes at PeanutsinSchools.org are excellent examples of items that appeal to kids – and help school nutrition pros plan meals that meet nutrition standards without breaking their budgets. Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Banana Smoothies, Peanut Butter Vanilla Yogurt Dip and African Peanut Stew (a tasty, creamy option for vegetarian and vegan customers) are perfect for back-to-school menu innovations. These recipes, created by HealthySchoolRecipes.com, come complete with crediting information and nutrition details.

So what can a school district do? Start a science-based discussion about food allergies that includes all interested parties – parents, students, teachers, and administrators as well as school nurses, medical advisors, and, of course, school nutrition staff. A school wellness committee or council can be an effective place to begin the conversation – about existing policies or about possible changes.

Here are five steps that make sense for all students – and are based on the latest evidence:

  1. Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs as a template for policies. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the National Association of School Nurses and other groups collaborated with the CDC to develop the best guidelines possible. 
  2. Educate. Educate. Educate. Keeping food-allergic students safe at school is a shared responsibility among all adults who provide care, services or oversight. This means that bus drivers, foodservice staff, teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, and after school personnel should all know the signs of an allergic reactions and what to do for an individual child.
  3. Be prepared in the event of a reaction. Even with good policies and careful procedures, reactions can and do happen. For any food allergy, children need an emergency anaphylaxis plan, access to necessary medications, and adults who know how to respond. Friends and classmates can also be taught to recognize the signs of a reaction to allergenic foods.
  4. Consider whether allergen safe tables are a good option for your school. These tables have been shown to reduce epinephrine use in a 2017 study. I often eat at allergen-free tables when visiting school cafeterias – and have been impressed with the level of students’ knowledge and the caring they show for their friends. (Bartnikas L., H. M. 2017, Impact of school peanut-free policies on epinephrine administration. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 467-473)
  5. Let parents and caretakers know that your school nutrition program takes all food allergies seriously. Meet with concerned families as appropriate and share your procedures for reviewing new products, labeling menu items with potential allergens, and supporting safe celebrations. Need more facts about peanut allergies? Find everything you need at Managing Peanut Allergies.

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.

Giving Thanks Every School Day

When I started the TIPS for Schools Meals That Rock Facebook group in early 2018, I did not know what to expect. The response has been wonderful with 2,065+ members sharing recipes, resources and their successes. A recent post by Amanda Pack Warren from Staunton City Eats, SCS School Nutrition Programs, Staunton, Virginia, made me step back and reflect on the celebration of School Nutrition Employee Week. Warren pointed out that School Nutrition Professionals deserve much more than gifts, thank you cards and social media posts for the incredible job they do – they deserve professional respect and deep appreciation every day.

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There’s a T-shirt (popular among school nutrition professionals of course) that says “I feed hundreds of hungry children every day with a smile on my face. What do you do?” This photo from Staunton City Eats embodies that slogan. With many thanks to Amanda Warren, I want to share my gratitude to every school nutrition professional by expanding on two points from her post: Every day these hard-working professionals deserve to receive sincere and specific thanks for a job well-done and to be seen as partners in education.

Woodland Staff

Sincere Thanks: The story behind this photo made me cry when I read the post from Kalin Bryan, Bartow County School Nutrition, Cartersville, Georgia: “A very special thing happened today at Woodland Middle School. Our central office team was delivering special aprons for School Nutrition Employee Week at WMS; she handed out the aprons and invited the staff into the cafeteria for a photo while the students were still eating. As the school nutrition staff walked out into the cafeteria, the entire lunchroom full of students started clapping and applauding them. No one asked the students to do this. They did it because they know how hard the ladies work to provide delicious, fresh food to them every school day.” I have eaten in this cafeteria and I know how hard these professionals work to plan, prepare and serve tasty, fresh meals with a smile.

Dallas Solar Preparatory

Specific thanks: While celebrating all the Dallas ISD Food Super Cooks Heroes during #FreshAttitudeWeek (coinciding with #SchoolNutritionEmployeeWeek), the department, directed by Michael Rosenberg, chose to recognize one school team with a specific award for serving with loving smiles: Our amazing Solar Preparatory School for Girls at James B. Bonham Cafeteria Crew was honored today by Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services with the Heart of Child Nutrition Award! We are extremely grateful for this team who serves each meal with love and a smile! #SolarStaffRocks.”

Stem Sensational Salad

Partners in STEM Education: School Nutrition programs and staff are the perfect partners for STEM (Science, Technology, Electronics and Math) Education using food to teach and reinforce classroom lessons. In Carrollton City Schools, Georgia, (Director Linette Dodson), Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools has developed delicious partnerships using school gardens, Food Corps service members and nutrition professionals: “When our CES Trojans grow enough mixed greens in school gardens to provide our kitchen with greens for 800+ STEMsational school lunch salads, it brings new meaning to Georgia Grown!” Now that’s a STEMsational example of the many ways Georgia School Nutrition Programs are creating strong educational partners with their  #ShakeItUPGA initiative!

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Partners in MATH/STEM Education: It’s clear from all the banners in this photo and from their Twitter feed (@RKES_PWCS) that the Rockledge Elementary Eagles, Prince William County Schools, VA, are focused on education excellence and fun educational activities, especially when it comes to STEM. AND they involve their school nutrition professionals in events like the Annual 3rd Grade Fruitapalooza to learn about fractions. Talk about #deliciousmath! Follow Prince William County Schools, School Food & Nutrition Services at @PWCSNutrition on Twitter to learn all about their delicious program.

I am grateful every day to every school nutrition professional across the USA. I am grateful to dishwashers, food artists, menu planners, directors and most of all those who serve hudreds of hungry children with smiles on their faces. You feed our future. 2015-10-27 I Feed Hundreds Shirt

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

#SchoolLunch is GREAT in GREELEY

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First grader Shayla chooses flavorings for her egg pop. 

There are three great reasons to share my recent visit to Greeley-Evans School District 6 in Colorado. First, there has been lots of recent attention to school lunch acceptability and food waste related USDA school meals nutritional standards. Secondly, it is School Nutrition Employee Wellness Week culminating on May 5, with School Lunch Hero Day. And, finally, farm to school remains one of the hottest trends in school meals.

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Greeley Central High School salad bar is well-loved. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services is dedicated to getting delicious school food into hungry kids. In a district with 22,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced meals) located in a population-boom town (4th fastest growth in the US), everything starts in a 12,000 square foot central production facility where nearly 100 percent of the district’s meals are prepared from scratch and sent out in bulk to schools. On my tour with district Chef Matthew Poling, I saw pallets of local Colorado red-skinned potatoes, boxes of frozen local, grass-fed beef, and 50-gallons drums of canned tomatoes direct from a California farm – as well as a commercial-sized chili roaster and a walk-in cooler of fresh produce. Why then do I have a photo of a messy salad bar with half empty containers? Because the high school students took – and ate – the produce. When I arrived at Greeley Central High School, it was standing room only on the Tierra Del Sol line. They actually they ran out of the burrito that I wanted for lunch (I did not go hungry; I enjoyed a Fuego Cheese Steak from the famous El Fuego Food Truck).

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Greeley-Evans School District 6 celebrates all their school lunch heroes. 

Before I ever entered a school, Director Danielle Bock gave me my very own School Lunch Hero Day button (distributed to every team member this week). During our tour, Danielle and I started with egg pop tasting in Chappelow K-8 Magnet School’s cafeteria at 7:30 AM and ended at a student-run coffee kiosk in Greeley West High School at 2:30 PM. During the intervening hours, I met dozens of school nutrition heroes – serving pancakes with mixed berry compote, explaining their Dance Party kits from the award-winning Student Wellness Program, scrubbing potatoes in the central kitchen, customizing sub sandwiches for teens, working the El Fuego Food Truck (and preparing my lunch), and sampling coffee with teen entrepreneurs at their student-run business.

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Director Danielle Bock helps Chappelow students choose flavorings for their egg pops. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is also a National Farm to School Network super-star – nearly 25 percent of their food purchases are local, with the rate increasing each year. The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Farm to School goals are ambitious and obviously achievable!

  • Continuously expanding local produce offerings during breakfast, lunch and in Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program sites
  • Sourcing milk from local dairies
  • Integrating locally-raised beef and chicken into meals
  • Expanding and improving school garden programs
  • Increasing Farmer in the Classroom and Chef in the Classroom programming
  • Partnering with other Northern Colorado school districts to develop efficient and effective systems, like the USDA-funded District 6 Food Hub, to work with local producers

My day at Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services was filled with enthusiastic school nutrition heroes, satisfied student customers, fresh food served with a smile, and support for the new frontiers of school food: think egg pops, food trucks, house-made hot sauce and coffee kiosks for teen entrepreneurs. I salute every staff member – and hope I can go back for lunch soon!

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For details about these farms and links to their social media, go to goo.gl/ZUrbNR

Winning Pasta Pics for School Lunch: #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway (Sponsor: Barilla Pasta)

School Meals That Rock is proud to partner with Barilla K-12 Pasta to promote whole grain pasta in school meals. Why? It’s quite simple: I serve Barilla products at home and I believe that they are a deliciously wholesome way for school meal programs to meet the USDA National School Lunch Program requirements for whole grains.

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So what is the #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway? It’s as simple as serving tasty pasta meals in your program. All you have to do is enroll in the program online and then submit a photo from your school nutrition program. It can be a photo of a school lunch tray with a pasta entrée or side salad; it can also be a salad bar or serving line with featuring a pasta dish; it can be a photo from your school kitchen where cooks are preparing your students favorite pasta menu item. Joelle Bradley enrolled and submitted this gorgeous tray of Barilla Whole Grain Rotini with beef sauce that she said is always a hit with the students at Redwood Elementary, Fort Bragg, California!

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Joelle Bradley is now entered to win $500 in the November monthly contest – and she is also entered to win the #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway Grand Prize: A one-day visit by Barilla Consulting Chef Bruno Wehren, for a comprehensive staff training on cooking whole grain pasta. Jeanne Reilly, NDTR, SNS, school nutrition director in Windham-Raymond RSU 314, Maine, was the September winner with the Cheesy Baked Ziti in the bottom left below. The other photos illustrate all the delicious ways that Windham-Raymond School Nutrition Program menus pasta to their students. They put Barilla Pasta on the menu frequently because #KidsLovePasta, it is what they eat at home, and parents approve of whole grain pasta dishes for school lunch.

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Need ideas for menuing Barilla pasta in your program? Barilla Foodservice Recipes offer endless possibilities for smart menu creations. This updated Turkey Tetrazzini with Penne Pasta is perfect for the holiday season. It’s also perfect for your school food budget since it features three USDA Foods (Turkey Roast, IQF Mushrooms and Lite Mozzarella Cheese). Give students a familiar choice and give your program a boost in participation. For more information on Barilla, call 1.866.349.4386, and visit barillafs.com for recipe inspiration.

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