Improving school lunches

by Jeff Gelski
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School
Innovations include reducing sodium in chicken wing sauce, adding lentils to tacos and including eggs in protein beverages.
 
KANSAS CITY — No one disputes the need for serving healthy food at school, but getting children to eat – and not discard – the food remains a challenge. Tasty ways to add protein, fiber and whole grains while keeping sodium levels at acceptable government-regulated levels were found at the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) annual national conference in Atlanta in July.

Kikkoman Sales USA Inc., San Francisco, showed how two school menu items, chicken wings and legs and a lo mein noodles dish, may feature sodium levels below the US Dept. of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program’s maximum levels. The levels range from 1,230 mg or less per lunch in grades kindergarten through fifth grade to 1,420 mg or less per lunch in grades 9 through 12.

Chef Garrett Berdan prepared both dishes in his presentation at the SNA meeting. Sweet and sour glazed chicken wings and legs contained Kikkoman low sodium sweet and sour sauce as well as black pepper and garlic powder. A serving size of one drumstick and one wing had 223 mg of sodium and 29 grams of protein.

“The result is a familiar protein option that has tons of flavor and visual appeal while being low in sodium to help school menu planners meet their nutrition standards,” Berdan said.

Teriyaki vegetable lo mein noodles featured green cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, green onions and Kikkoman less sodium teriyaki glaze. A one-cup serving of the recipe contained 301 mg of sodium.

School
The choice of sauce may allow for the reduction of sodium in such school meal items as chicken wings.
 
“School nutrition programs have access to frozen eight-cut, bone-in chicken through the USDA foods program, which helps keep food cost in check,” Berden said. “When serving this inexpensive protein with a simply prepared grain item, like the whole grain-rich teriyaki lo mein noodles, school nutrition operators can stay within their food costs.”

Tacos in an SNA presentation featured roasted cauliflower and seasoned lentils. A two-taco serving contained more than 6 grams of fiber and more than 10 grams of protein. Chef LJ Klinkenberg, nutrition services director at Cheney Public Schools in the state of Washington, prepared the tacos. Klinkenberg also talked about how he uses lentils in sloppy joe meat, which allows him to serve larger portions than a standard recipe.

Lentils, along with chickpeas, dry peas and dry beans, are pulses, which are high in both protein and fiber. Jessie Hunter, director of domestic marketing for the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and the American Pulse Association, both based in Moscow, Idaho, also spoke at the SNA meeting. She said pulses in reimbursable school meals must be served with a pulse in its whole, cooked form that is recognizable to students as a pea, lentil or bean. Exceptions include hummus and smoothies with pulses.

The American Egg Board, Chicago, promoted protein boxes, which may be an option for students participating in after school sports and activities. One large egg contains 6 grams of protein and is an excellent source of choline and selenium. Eggs also contain vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin.

One protein box featured a hard-boiled egg with hummus, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and pita. In other protein boxes, a hard-boiled egg was paired with cheese cubes and a wrap; strawberries, blueberries and graham crackers; sunflower seeds, crackers and croutons; toasted edamame, cheese stick and a roll; and cheese cubes and almonds.

School
Teriyaki vegetable to mein noodles featured green cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, green onions and Kikkoman less sodium teriyaki glaze.
 
Denver-based Ardent Mills at the SNA event promoted two products made with its Ultragrain flour: Biscuits & More Mix and Ultragrain Pasta from Armour Specialty Marketing. Ultragrain flour delivers the taste, texture and appearance of traditional white flour while maintaining the whole grain nutrition naturally found in the wheat kernel.


“Ultragrain has become the go-to whole wheat flour in school foodservice because of its smooth texture, light color and mild flavor, making it a favorite among both food service directors and students,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing at Ardent Mills. “In fact, in multiple surveys we’ve conducted more than half of all food service directors look for Ultragrain flour when choosing new whole grain-rich foods for their menus.”

The Biscuits & More Mix may be used in biscuits, breakfast foods like cinnamon rolls and scones, and savory applications like empanadas, calzones and drop biscuits for pot-pie style recipes, Trouba said.

“Made with Ultragrain flour, it simplifies the process of getting back to scratch for school districts by taking the fuss and labor out of measuring multiple ingredients,” he said.

Ultragrain Pasta is available in six shapes: spaghetti, elbows, rotini, penne, lasagna and egg noodles. At ANC, the Armour Specialty Marketing team demonstrated the rotini in a cold pasta salad and the elbows in a Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese.

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