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: Holiday Fruits and Veggies = FUN

Social media has been full of holiday food art. Even got into the act with a very fun snowman sandwich on popcorn snow next to a pea pod tree. While there’s plenty of cute Christmas sweets and treats floating around out there, I’m personally most impressed with the already-very-busy ‘lunch ladies’ and food dudes who go out of their way (maybe on their own time) to make fruits and vegetables special for children. This wonderful winter scene came from Maureen Williams Voll, at Saint Patrick School, Terre Haute, Indiana. I know that Maureen struggles to find even a few minutes for art, so this is all the more impressive: “A little holiday food art before we head off for vacation. The kids have been asking for food art, as we haven’t done any in a while. Our gift to them, and they LOVED it!

Veggie Car and House, St. Patrick's School, Terre Haute, Indiana

Veggie Car and House, St. Patrick’s School, Terre Haute, Indiana

This simple broccoli Christmas tree was decoration on the serving line at West Chatham Elementary today in Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, Georgia. Thanks to Director Lydia Martin for proudly sharing what her staff had created.

West Chatham Elementary (GA), Broccoli Christmas Tree

West Chatham Elementary (GA), Broccoli Christmas Tree

Flat Veggie Trays have been very popular on Pinterest, including the School Meals That Rock Christmas Food Fun board. These two come from districts at opposite ends of the country – Coppell ISD in Texas (L) and South Haven in Michigan (R). Easy to make – and very fun for students!

Texas Broccoli Tree & Michigan Cauliflower Snowman

Texas Broccoli Tree & Michigan Cauliflower Snowman

School lunch can be very festive without being ‘arty’ both this Greek Pizza from Mast Way Elementary Oyster River Child Nutrition, New Hampshire, and the Broccoli Salad from Shaw School, Millbury, Massachusetts, are deliciously colorful examples. Thanks to every school nutrition professional for preparing beautiful, delicious and often fun food for hungry children. Enjoy your winter break – we hope some cooks for you!

Mast Way Greek Pizza, Lee, New Hampshire

Mast Way Greek Pizza, Lee, New Hampshire

Shaw Elementary, Millbury, Massachusetts

Shaw Elementary, Millbury, Massachusetts

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Celebrating the Season

Yesterday’s focus on pizza made us think of Elf on the Shelf at school. What’s the connection you ask? It’s the dedicated and creative folks at Billerica (MA) Public Schools Nutrition Services, headed up by April M. Laskey, SNS, Director of School Nutrition and Dina Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator. Yesterday Jimmy the Kitchen Elf, from the Kennedy Elementary School enjoyed pizza, milk, yummy salad and an apple with his reindeer friend. What a fun way to connect school meals to seasonal fun that students may also be doing at home.

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves were showing up all over Billerica Nutrition Services this week. On Thursday, as part of Massachusetts Harvest of the Month and BPS Taste it Thursday even the Elf on the Shelf got his yummy roasted carrot ‘fries.’

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Some of Billerica’s everyday ingredients look positively festive. This lovely Kale Garbanzo Bean Salad is simply dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This would look fabulous on a holiday cafeteria line.

Kale Chickpea Salad

Kale Chickpea Salad

Last December, I had the great pleasure of visiting April and Dina – and eating lunch at Frederick J. Dutile Elementary School. I know it was a special occasion – and, I also know that they regularly make colorful appealing vegetable trays like this for their customers (who really dug into this one!).

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Even the logo for Billerica Schools Nutrition Services is bright and festive! Be sure and follow this dedicate team of school nutrition professionals on Facebook. Happy holidays!

Billerica logo2

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Pizza Please!

Kids love pizza – and today’s school pizza is a perfect combination: whole grain crusts (even hand tossed on occasion) + low-fat cheeses + nutrient-rich tomato sauces (sometimes house made) + a variety of toppings found in any self-respecting pizza shop. Some school pizza is so goof-for-you, it’s almost surprising that kids will eat it. But, that’s thing about pizza’s popularity – you can serve up lots of nutrition on a slice!

Here’s a small taste of school pizzas from across the US – for even more deliciousness, visit School Meals That Rock on Pinterest for our School Pizza That Rocks board. One of our long-time favorite pizzas is from Portland (OR) Public Schools Nutrition Services, where farm to school and Harvest of Month are both strong traditions. Roasted Oregon Asparagus Pizza is just a natural in the spring!

Roasted Asparagus Pizza, Portland Public Schools.

Roasted Asparagus Pizza, Portland Public Schools, Portland, Oregon

A flatbread crust is another popular way to do pizzas and many school cooks swear by the Rich’s Whole Grain Flatbreads. Director Jennifer Resier at the QV Cafe in Quaker Valley (PA) Schools adapted an online recipe for these gorgeous (and very popular) Rainbow Flatbread Veggie Pizzas. It’s hard to imagine a student (or adult) who would be attracted to these gems!

Rainbow Flatbread Veggie Pizza, QV Cafe, Quaker Valley Schools, Pennsylvania

Rainbow Flatbread Veggie Pizza, QV Cafe, Quaker Valley Schools, Pennsylvania

We couldn’t talk school pizza with mentioning Mast Way Elementary in Lee, New Hampshire’s Oyster River School District where Jess loves to make pizzas to match holidays, as well as available local veggies. Today was Pizza Friday with a choice of Chicken Fajita Pizza topped with grilled chicken, green/red peppers and spices or the Veggie Pizza (pictured below before baking). What lucky children to have Jess making pizza in the kitchen – and serving it with a fresh garden bar, fruit and local milk!

Veggie Pizza, Mast Way Elementary, Oyster River School District, Lee, New Hampshire

Veggie Pizza, Mast Way Elementary, Oyster River School District, Lee, New Hampshire

Dear Katie Couric: Let’s Do School Lunch

Dear Katie Couric,

My friends and I would like to invite you to lunch in some very trendy, very healthy – but clearly undiscovered – dining rooms around the country. We heard your recent Good Morning America comments that “50% of school districts serve junk food for lunch, fast food for lunch. Kids are getting terrible choices.” We are delighted to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

The real news about school lunch is that 30+ million students enjoy amazing choices every day. Thanks to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, dedicated school nutrition professionals and thousands of health, nutrition and community partners, kids now have access to a truly amazing variety of:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes organic, often local or even ‘hyper-local’ – straight from school garden
  • Whole grains, including quinoa, brown rice and other gluten-free options, as well as freshly baked whole wheat rolls and whole grain pizza crusts
  • Lean proteins like hummus, black bean salad and grilled tofu, boat-to-school salmon in Alaska and Montana beef for Montana schools
  • Delicious dairy products, such as Greek yogurt parfaits, berry smoothies and artisan cheeses, in addition to low-fat/fat-free milk at every meal

But, please don’t take our word for it. Come see the amazing variety and taste the deliciousness that is school lunch in America today. We’re so sorry that the Fed Up researchers did not dig deeper into the revolution in schools meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks and suppers) growing in thousands of districts.

School Nutrition Professionals make daily salads. El Monte City Schools, California (May 2014)

El Monte City Schools, California: School nutrition professionals make daily salads (May 2014)

Here are a few tasty tidbits showing how well fed our children are in schools today:

  • USDA Farm to School Census: In USDA’s most recent survey (SY 2011-12) schools invested $354,599,266 in local economies by purchasing local foods.
  • National Farm to School Network: More than 1,000 local food champions recently met in Austin to celebrate and ‘power up’ for expanding programs.
  • USDA HealthierUS School Challenge: 6,730 schools in 49 states and DC have met rigorous nutrition and physical activity criteria for these awards.
  • Food Corps: This nationwide team of 140 passionate service members and fellows in 108 sites connects kids to real food to help them grow up healthy.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: Hundreds of chefs now work in school programs, as directors, leaders and regular volunteers to train staff and energize kids.
  • Salad Bars Move to Schools: 1.7+ million students are eating up produce packed into 3,400+ new salad bars donated to schools from coast to coast.
  • CIA Healthy Kids: The nation’s top chefs offer culinary resources to schools so they can continue serving tasty, appealing, nutritious food to children.
  • Vermont FEED: This is one example of regional efforts with a nationwide reach to provide nutrition education and culinary training to schools.

Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Many of us have admired your work for years – and now we would like to share ours with you! Lunch is on us – we just want you to see, and more importantly taste, the amazing changes being served up in America’s school kitchens and dining areas.

You name the date and location – and we will be there to show you how hard School Nutrition Association members work to ensure that children are well nourished and ready to learn!


Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Nutrition for the Future, Inc.
Billings, MT 59102

MOBILE:    406-698-8868  
FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock                                                                TWITTER: @SchoolMealsRock                                                                                  



School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Way Ahead on Whole Grains

According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 What’s Hot culinary forecast, Whole Grains in Kids Meals ranks number 10 in the Top Ten Trends for 2013 by American Culinary Federation. Child nutrition issues also hits the number 3 and 5 spots on the NRA list.

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

When it comes to whole grains, schools are really cooking on all burners and in ovens from coast-to-coast. From all the evidence I see, schools are way out in front of most restaurant meals when it comes to kid-appealing whole grains. While schools nutrition programs have been gradually adding more whole grains for years, the new USDA Meal Patterns mandated by the 2010 Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act for really accelerated the process, especially in the past two years. Just think of this – starting in July 2014, ALL grains served in school breakfast and lunch meals must be whole-grain rich.

An article in the May 2013 issue of the School Nutrition Association magazine highlights that creative and delicious ways that school nutrition professionals have responded to the challenge of adding whole grains to children’s meals. Several of my favorite school nutrition heroes are featured, including Doris Demers, the director in Oyster River, New Hampshire.

SNA Magazine , May 2013

SNA Magazine , May 2013

My favorite example of Doris’s creativity with whole grains in this school lunch from January 2013. The Beef Stew (made with local grass-fed beef and local root vegetables) is served in a made-from-scratch mini-bread bowl. How cool is that!!

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

I could go on-and-on-and-on with photos of whole grain pizza crusts, entrees served over brown rise and whole grain pasta, and salads made with quinoa, barley and other more “exotic” grains – so little space, so much whole grain goodness. However, it is also important to note that food manufacturers have also make a whole lot of changes to their school-focused products so that children are able to enjoy whole grains in foods they love, like waffles, sandwich buns, and pizza crust. Here are just two examples of the products that I saw while visiting Ohio schools last week.

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

I have to post one more example of whole grains from Douglas County School District in Colorado. Director Brent Craig and Chef Jason Morse are doing a great grain job, like this Roasted Veggie Pizza on a commercial whole grain crust with balsamic glaze. Like I said, schools a way out in front on this trend!!

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO

Delicious Celebrations of School Nutrition Success: Farm-2-School + National School Lunch Week

Schools are doing truly incredible things to serve local, fresh – and yes, organic – foods that kids love to eat. To see super salad bars, hyper-local apples (grown five miles from school!), and a lunch with Sautéd Cabbage that students devoured, please visit School Meals That Rock on Facebook. This gorgeous tray from the award-winning Portland (OR) Public Schools is just a tiny taste of the delicious school feast that you can see there. Everything on this tray in OREGON GROWN – and the pear is ORGANIC!! Please take a tour School Meals That Rock and see the amazing food that is loving prepared and served by America’s School Nutrition HEROES!!

Whole Wheat Pizza, cauliflower, organic pear and low-fat milk ALL from Oregon, served in Portland Public Schools to celebrate HealthierUS School Challenge Awards

Some Very Real Reasons Why Kids May Be Hungry at School – and What We Can Do About It: Part 1 of 3

I’ve watched the videos from the hungry teen athletes in Kansas and Jon Stewart’s amusing Starved By the Bell segment. I’ve read about the boycotts and heard dedicated school nutrition professionals talk seriously about getting their high schools out of the National School Lunch Program.

I’m very sorry that meals for kids at school are once again fodder for YouTube videos and late night TV. I’m even sorrier that school nutrition has become a political football like so many other issues. I am sorriest for the thousands of school nutrition heroes who have been trying to make the 2012 USDA Nutrition Standards work and the millions of low-income children who reply on schools cafeterias to provide their best meals of the day.

There are some very real reasons why students, especially teens, may be hungry during the school day. If everyone focused on finding real solutions, we could work together to benefit all students – improving their nutrition, health and academic performance. Here are two of the very real reasons that kids may be hungry at school – stay tuned for more reasons in parts 2 and 3.

Greek Pizza with hummus on whole grain crust, Johnston, Rhode Island, High School

Reason #1: Kids, especially teens, are hungry because they don’t eat breakfast.

SOLUTION: Breakfast every day for every student

According to the 2011 Kellogg’ Breakfast in America Survey, breakfast eating dips as kids grow older; 77 percent of young children eat breakfast every day, but this falls to 50 percent in the middle-school years and 36 percent among high school students. If you don’t eat breakfast, the new calorie ranges may not be enough to be both a breakfast and a lunch. And, more importantly, you will have found it hard (if not impossible) to concentrate and learn in your morning classes.

Schools need breakfast programs that are convenient for kids and practical for school food service. There are lots of successful models: Grab-and-Go breakfast options, like new kiosks planned for Medford (MA) schools, breakfast in the classroom being successfully implemented in districts coast to coast, and cafeteria breakfast bars with made-to-order breakfast burritos, as seen in my hometown of Billings, Montana.

Made-to-Order, Breakfast Burrito Bar, Senior High School, Billings, Montana

Reason #2: Most school schedule recess after lunch, so kids rush to get outside.

SOLUTION: Recess Before lunch

When kids are eager for recess, they often dump hunger-satisfying foods into the trash. It’s only nutrition WHEN they eat or drink, so we should maximize scheduling to get the food into the kids. Honestly, it’s not rocket science that children would be hungrier and thirstier when they have the chance to play first – and that exactly what schools report according to Starving for Recess, a 2011 District Administration article.

Scheduling Recess Before Lunch (RBL) isn’t rocket-science either and there are plenty of resources from Montana Team Nutrition to help schools with the process. RBL can even save money since many schools report significant decreases in garbage removal costs when students are active first, eating more food and drinking more milk afterward.

Recess Before Lunch Guide, Montana Team Nutrition (2008)

USDA New-trition Guidelines for School Meals: Business as usual – or whole new ballgame

On January 26, 2012, USDA released the long-awaited 2012 Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.  According to the website: “Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA is making the first major changes in school meals in 15 years, which will help us raise a healthier generation of children.”

As students head back-to-school meals in cafeterias across the nation, the new standards are generating lots of media buzz with headlines like Schools scrambling to serve up healthier lunch choices, More vegetables, higher prices coming to school cafeteria lunch lines this fall, and Some Cocke County students finding new school lunches hard to swallow. From these news stories, it’s clear that the new guidelines are, sadly, a new whole ballgame for some districts.

The really good news for hungry children, their families and educators is that many schools have been working towards the very same science-based standards for years, even decades. This is especially true for the 3,871 schools that have met the criteria for a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) award, a strategic component of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. This impressive achievement is a strong indication of how committed school nutrition professionals are to offering students the healthiest meals possible:

“In February 2010, the First Lady and USDA challenged stakeholders to double the number of HUSSC schools within a year and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that. We exceeded our first goal last June and this year we’ve again exceeded expectations. Not only have we surpassed our second year goal we’ve more than met our goal for June 2013 a year ahead of schedule!

How often does “ahead of schedule” happen in the real world!! Here are some of the key changes what will show up in some schools – and will be just business as usual in many other districts:


Schools are now required to serve a wide-variety of colorful vegetables each week. Additionally, in order for a lunch meal to be reimbursable, each tray will need to include at least ½ cup of fruits and/or vegetables. This will be easy in districts like Lake Stevens, Washington, where students make a “rainbow at the salad bar.”


Students must now be offered a fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (in juice) fruit for lunch. In the Montague, Michigan, School Food Service Department, they serve fruit choices daily on the lunch line. Michigan apples are so popular that Montague set a 2011 Guinness World Record for eating 9,329 apples at the same time.


As per the new standards, at least half of all grains served in school lunch must now be whole grain rich (starting in 2014 all grain products must be whole grain rich). In Douglas County Schools, Colorado, they made popular pizza smarter with a whole grain crust, roasted vegetables, and a balsamic glaze (chosen by a high school student panel).


Under new USDA guidance, schools must offer two varieties of milk: unflavored milk can be non-fat or 1%, while flavored milk must be non-fat. This milk policy has been the standard in Portland (Oregon) Public Schools Nutrition Services for more than a decade. As you can see, they also offer a colorful selection of produce!

Other mandated changes for school lunch meals include:

  • Calorie ranges for three grade groupings (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12)
  • Minimum and maximum servings per week for both grains and meat/meat alternates (cheese, beans, etc.) for each of the grade groupings

New School Meal Patterns: Do U Have 2 B a Magician?

Delighted to be in Denver for the School Nutrition Association’s 2012 Annual Nutrition Conference – where 6,000+ school food professionals come to taste new items, check out the latest equipment, and listen to the best speakers in the business. Like my colleagues from every state and several foreign countries, I am here to learn, learn, LEARN!

The focus of this meeting is quite clear: Everyone involved in school nutrition is eager (desperate might be a better word) for answers about the rollout of USDA’s 2012 Nutriton Standards for School Meals. The complexity of the meal pattern changes and the questions about students’ reactions can be summarized in a friend’s Tweet from the conference yesterday: “U dont have to b a ‪#dietitian‬ 2 meet the new school guidelines, u hav 2 b a magician”

Here are three “magic wands” that I’ll be looking for at the conference sessions and exhibits: (1) What products and recipes will meet the new meal pattern AND student taste preferences at the same time?

The Zesty Chipotle Chicken Flatbread tray pictured above meets the new meal pattern and fits well into current reimbursement levels. It has also been kid-tested in the Denver Public Schools. I tasted it last night – and loved it. But, many issues still remain in serving trays that meet the new meal pattens:

  • Chipotle (or flatbread for that matter) will work great in some parts of the county and fall flat in others. Where are the hundreds (maybe thousands) of recipe/meal options necessary to please critical students and fit the guidelines?
  • Some of the toughest new requirements are serious restrictions on grains (even whole grains) and meats (even lean ones). Were such restrictions necessary given the new calorie ranges for three age groups (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12)?

(2) What do we need to market/promote/inspire students and staff to ENJOY (in some cases) radically different school meals meals?

It’s pretty safe to say that the vast majority of US children are not currently following the USDA Nutrition Standards when eating at home or in restaurants. It’s going to take some serious marketing and promotion to get the beautiful new meals into kids rather than garbage cans.

  • The staff in Lake Stevens Washington did a FABULOUS job with their “Make a Rainbow at the Salad Bar” promotion. What else are schools doing effectively to motivate kids to enjoy foods they may never have seen before?
  • Marketing and promotion take time, resources, and expertise not always available in school nutrition programs. How are school training staff, finding resources, and collaborating to get the job done?

(3) What can we do create CAFETERIAS that provide positive, pleasant places for students to learn healthful eating habits?

The current “herd ’em in, herd ’em out” mentality in many school cafeterias is not an environment that encourages trying new items and enjoying a variety of flavors on your tray. One school lunch director told me that kids in her school have so little time to eat that “they are still grabbing things off trays while walking toward the trash cans.”

  • Since it’s only nutrition when they eat or drink it, we have to give more time and attention to school meal environments. With all the focus on WHAT is being served, we can not WHERE, WHEN, and HOW school meals are served. 
  • As long as these conditions are less than optimal, we will be feeding garbage cans not kids. I am deeply interested in WHAT schools are doing to address these issues.
STAY TUNED here and on FB SchoolMealsThatRock and Twitter SchoolMealsRock for everything that I learn here in Denver!!