Each year, more and more school districts are incorporating vegetarian products
into the 27 million plus meals they serve students each day. School districts
see it as a way to provide healthier and tastier meals to students, while
extending their shrinking resources.
According to the United Soybean Domestic Marketing Board, over the last five years the soybean check-off has worked with school districts, foodservice professionals, teachers, parents, and students to increase use and acceptance of lowfat, flavorful, and economical soy products in school meals.
"Soy and vegetarian fits into school foodservice managers' plans," says Anne Patterson, R.D., of Nutrition Advantage. According to a survey of 15,000 school foodservice directors, 77 percent serve soy-enhanced products or vegetarian items 5-10 times a month.
Since 1994, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets guidelines for school menus, has required that the fat content in school lunches no longer exceed 30 percent of calories for a week, and saturated fat content cannot exceed 12 percent of calories. In an effort to help districts meet school meal guidelines, the USDA removed the limit on the amount of soy schools can serve in school lunches.
According to Patterson, including soy-protein in entrées helps school districts meet dietary guidelines. Plus, it helps lower fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content of entrées, while protein levels remain the same or improve. The Philadelphia School District has found using soy protein in entrées increases vitamin A, reduces sodium, and helps foods retain more moisture and flavor. "Our district has utilized soy-containing products for the past 10 years," Paul Schmid of the Philadelphia School District told members of the School Nutrition Association at a recent meeting. "Soy protein has helped to reduce costs, meet USDA nutritional guidelines, extend use of commodities, and improve acceptance of products."
As part of the battle against obesity, the Illinois Center for Soy Foods at the University of Illinois launched a pilot program, ISoy, to demonstrate the benefits of including soy in the state's school lunch programs. The program was a joint effort with the Illinois Soybean Association and Archer Daniels Midland. As part of the program, schools in suburban Ford Heights began testing soy in school lunch menus. Two items each week substituted soy instead of meat. Examples of revised entrées students were served included tacos or chili with soy crumbles in place of meat. Students were not told which dishes were meatless. The school districts included in the study were the Pekin School District, the Champaign School District, the Decatur School District, and the Murphysboro School District. The schools were selected to give a cross section of the elementary school populations in the state of Illinois. The pilot program met with great success. Entrées such as vegetable ravioli, veggie taco salad, and veggie-bean chili were well accepted by students. Fifty-two per cent of the students polled said they could not tell that the vegetarian products were lowfat.
"Everyone eats our hummus," said Beverly Girard, director of Food
and Nutrition Services, School Board of Sarasota County, Florida. "We
try to satisfy all requests, and to accommodate eating preferences as much
as possible. We have found that our hummus is a winner for everyone."
"We offer a portobello burger, from Bello's," added Carolyn LaBlanc,
purchasing agent. "They are juicy and tender, and had great initial acceptance."
Vegetarian and vegan items have been incorporated into the K-12 menu offerings
for several years in Sarasota. Depending on the day, students may select from
a pasta with vegetable marinara sauce (vegan), a veggie pita delight that
incorporates the ever-popular hummus with fresh, crispy vegetables packed
into a pita pocket (vegan), a veggie taco salad with red kidney beans (vegan),
a portobello burger sandwich (vegan), or a Gardenburger (vegetarian).
2. Jim Gleason, Western Region Sales Manager, Wholesome & Hearty Foods Company
26911 Carranza Drive, Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Gardenburger is very interested in the K-12 school opportunity both from a business perspective and from a nutritional standpoint: the meatless category and Gardenburger in particular can help food- service directors reach their nutritional goals for our children. Gardenburgers should be available through most distributors dealing with school districts.
Feedback Gleason receives from school foodservice directors indicate that Gardenburgers are well-received in schools, especially by older kids requesting vegetarian alternatives. In addition to offering Gardenburgers as an entrée sandwich, Gleason suggests that foodservice directors visit <www.gardenburger.com> for recipes using Gardenburgers rather than meat ingredients. Gardenburgers have the Child Nutrition (CN) label, so they can be used as a meat alternative.
During the Natural Products Expo West convention, Lori Luke, Vice President of Marketing and Research & Development at Gardenburger suggested that "Gardenburger wants to add convenience without sacrificing quality and good protein source." She continued, "We're looking to spread Gardenburger brand appeal to the health-conscious student who still wants a high-quality good-tasting meal. The vegetarian students and families already know about us; we're trying to appeal to non-vegetarians who are health conscious and want to incorporate more meatless products into their diet." According to Luke, Gardenburger has put the spotlight on maintaining taste primarily through its sauces, avoiding any artificial ingredients, and paying close attention to pricing structures.
The New York City School District, covering all boroughs, recently approached Gardenburger, asking them to implement healthier food options for its students. As a first step, flame-grilled Gardenburgers® are now being distributed to the nation's largest school district. If this is successful, Gardenburger hopes to introduce some of its new Wraps throughout the school district.
3. Elaine McFadden, MPH, RD, Corporate Dietitian, Nature's Path
Elaine McFadden wants foodservice directors to have a different mindset when
marketing healthy and vegetarian foods. "For example, how about fund-raising
with veggie bars, rather than candy or using individually-packed cold cereals
instead of chips?" asked McFadden. "When we talk about marketing
to the K-12 audience, we know we've got to compete with "cool factors,"
such as bold labeling or familiar characters. Healthy and vegetarian products
can do that."
According to McFadden, Nature's Path products have been very successful in retail for over 25 years. There have been several products available to schools for many years, especially healthy cold cereals and bars, such as Gorilla Munch, a gluten-free, vegan cold cereal that makes the transition from sugary cereals to healthy cereals easier, or Enviro-Kids Bar, a brown, crisped rice bar, with textures and flavors similar to mainstream items, but without the fat and sugar.
Nature's Path knows that foodservice directors are dealing with mainstream appeal and suggests they market their healthy and vegetarian products to different age groups to fit different needs:
4. Mark Merryfield, Director of Sales Foodservice, ADM
4666 Faries Parkway, Decatur, IL 62526
In Merryfield's experience, most school districts offering vegetarian items
are using products such as veggie burgers, pizza, nuggets, and other frozen
already prepared items or perhaps salad bar options. He feels that there is
still a lot of room for expanding the use of vegetarian menu items in schools.
Archer Daniels Midland has soy pasta that has been well received in school-age children's taste panels. It has a higher price than traditional pasta, which is on the commodity program. However, it should be compared to protein foods, not just carbohydrates.
Merryfield notes the ISoy study, mentioned above, researched to see if children accepted soy based items replacing traditional items. They did a plate waste study that showed that the kids will accept the product if it is served to them. ADM offers several products that meet the vegetarian needs of schools meat alternatives both frozen and dry such as the soy-enriched pasta, medium grain rice, vegetarian refried beans, and washed and triple-cleaned bean lines. As heart health and controlling childhood obesity become more and more important, Merryfield is confident that more school districts will incorporate more soy and vegetarian products into their menus.
5. Kamal Dagher, former VP of R&D, Barilla America, Inc.
Barilla Plus, three years in development, is a complete food. The Barilla
Company observed that pasta is served more as a meal than part of a meal and
wanted to offer a product that did not need extra ingredients to make a complete
food. Barilla plus presently contains egg whites, but gets a lot of its protein
from legumes and fiber from multigrains, ground flaxseed and wheat fiber.
It has Omega-3s and has twice as much fiber and 40 per cent more protein than
traditional pastas. If Barilla Plus is well accepted, a vegan version will
As comparison, 1 cup of cooked Barilla Plus has 6 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and no fat; 8 ounces of 2% dairy milk has 8 grams of protein, no fiber, and 5 grams of fat; ½ cup of cooked spinach has 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and no fat; and ½ cup of broccoli has 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and no fat. That it is a complete food is an important point for the Barilla Company, as Dagher noted, "many children want to eat their pasta plain, with no vegetables or sauce to help complete the nutritional profile."
Mr. Dagher, currently a consultant to Barilla, saw that school programs were a great way to connect with parents. "We found that directors of school foodservice were struggling with the fact that parents believe schools feed too much junk food to the kids," said Dagher. "School directors are always looking for a way to show that schools are doing the right thing, so we developed a pamphlet that explains the benefits of Barilla Plus and it includes a coupon for families to try Barilla Plus at home. This has been appreciated by schools because it shows they're working towards delivering good nutrition, and by parents, who are being introduced to a new product that will benefit their kids at home as well as at school." "We wanted to deliver balanced nutrition that would satisfy the most demanding dietitian, school nutritionist, and parents, and to satisfy the most finicky children with taste, texture, and color." Barilla Plus and traditional Barilla are available to school foodservice in 20-pound cases with two 10-pound "pillows" (shrink-wrapped plastic bundles).
6. Rodney Taylor, director of food and nutrition services for the Santa Monica-Malibu, California, Unified School District, has featured a "farmer's market salad bar" and vegetarian pasta dishes for years. He's experimenting with other vegetarian entrées, but said many school districts simply can't afford them. "Invariably they're great items, but they're out of our price range," he said. Mr. Taylor said a standard veggie burger on a bun costs 81 cents, 49 cents more than a hamburger. That's a lot for a school budget entrée. He predicted, nonetheless, that schools would find a way to serve more vegetarian fare. "As kids become more aware of the need to eat healthier and the demand is greater, you'll see healthier items," he said.
All products are frozen and ready to use. They can be reheated right from the freezer in a conventional oven or a microwave, taking from 30-60 minutes to heat, depending on the product. Just add a favorite sauce, such as tomato or mushroom, and serve on a whole-grain roll, over pasta, or over rice. Contact: Mon Cuisine or Schreiber Foods, 56-20 59th Street, Maspeth, NY 11378; (800) 245-5620
Mori-Nu Spiced Tofu: Mori-Nu is offering two flavors of shelf-stable tofu, Chinese Spice and Japanese Miso. This tofu does not need to be refrigerated until opened. A great way to add protein to stir-fries or vegetarian vegetable combos, just cube the spiced tofu and toss with the desired ingredients. The spiced tofu can be eaten cold, right from the package or tossed into pasta or green salads, or can be sliced and baked or cooked on the grill. Contact: Morinaga Nutritional Foods, Inc., 2441 West 205th Street, Suite C102, Torrance, California 90501 or visit <www.morinu.com>.
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM): Sells several frozen, ready-to-use soy-based "meat" entrées. Here is an overview of two of the more popular products (information from ADM literature).
Veggie Pita Delight
Chili "con soya" with Beans
Vegan Pumpkin Pie
Apple Crisp with a Crunchy Granola Topping
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