Kids will soon eat more nutritious meals at school, and that means more than just adding carrots and apples as side dishes. New regulations and incentives, as well as a new voluntary program, may provide the opportunity to see how beans can benefit the school lunch menu.
In January the United States Department of Agriculture announced the new standards for school lunches, part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The new rules update the nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Schools will have to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in meals. The rules also focus on limiting calories, ensuring proper portion size, and reducing the amount of trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium in kids’ meals
To illustrate what the new meals might look like, the USDA offers a Before and After menu on its website. For example, for Monday the Before menu included a bean and cheese burrito with mozzarella cheese, applesauce, orange juice, and 2 percent milk. The After menu consists of a submarine sandwich containing turkey, low-fat cheese, mustard, and reduced fat mayonnaise on a whole wheat role, with refried beans, jicama, green pepper strips, cantaloupe, low-fat ranch dip, and skim milk.
The USDA will also offer incentives to schools that meet certain requirements. Beginning in October, schools can earn an additional six cents per lunch as a performance-based reimbursement.
Schools must begin to comply with the new rules by July 1. Some schools already have a head start in updating their menus. A voluntary program, the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), launched two years ago as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. HUSSC offers financial incentives to schools that meet certain criteria. The incentives are in the levels of Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Gold Award of Distinction, and range from $500 to $2,000. The money must be deposited into the nonprofit school foodservice account and be used for allowable expenses in that account.
Among the criteria for the HUSSC awards are that the schools must meet Average Daily Participation rates for School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. These figures are calculated based on attendance, not enrollment. Also there are criteria for fruits and vegetables and whole grains offered to the students.
To earn an award, a school foodservice program would have to add two or more of 20 options the USDA lists on its HUSSC website. The more options the school adds, the higher level award it can win. For example one option is to offer an extra serving of vegetables, which the program breaks out into the sub-groups of dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, or beans or peas. Another option is to offer grab-and-go meals that include one of these sub-groups of vegetables. Still another is to display the vegetable side dishes prominently in the lunch line.
The USDA offers tips on how to incorporate beans into meals, in its Healthy Meals Resource System. The website includes recipes such as Black Beans with Corn and Tomatoes, Italian White Bean Soup, and Three Bean Pasta. There are also Vegetarian Quantity recipes such as Veggie Pita Delight, which contains five #10 cans of garbanzo beans and makes 100 servings; Chili with Soy Crumbles and Beans, which uses eight pounds of canned pinto or kidney beans and makes 50 servings; and Vegetable Chili, which uses eight pounds of canned kidney beans and serves 100.
The website also features information about the different types of beans and their nutrition information, and recommends that beans be eaten with grains, such as beans with rice, or beans in a tortilla. There is also a section on substituting canned beans, which are much more convenient because they don’t need to soak overnight, and are nutritionally comparable to dried beans.
Kids generally give beans a thumbs up. Children don’t disdain beans as much as they might, say, broccoli or spinach. For the picky eaters, foodservice professionals and restaurant chefs often do what home cooks do, which is make the food fun, or, as a last resort, hide it. Mix beans – or even chili – with pasta for a colorful meal, puree them and add them to baked goods instead of shortening or butter, or present mashed beans (hummus, black bean dip) as a snack. Beans also work well in kids’ favorites such as Sloppy Joes.
For more recipes and ideas, visit http://bushbeansfoodservice.com/.