There’s a reason the vegetable crudité platter has never really gone out of style. An array of crisp, garden-fresh spears of carrots and celery with an avalanche of cherry tomatoes surrounding a lake of ranch dip is always a welcome sight at any summer event. Chefs are taking that idea: simple, fresh snacks that highlight produce, and creating brighter and bolder presentations this summer.
Something unusual sparks up snack cups
Purple carnival cauliflower is the star in individual snack cups created by Cheryl Fliss at Klingberg Family Centers, an alternative school in New Britain, Conn. Fliss found out about the variety from her produce representative, who sends out a weekly “chef’s toy box” with cool fruits and veggies. Fliss ordered the cauliflower right away for the school’s Fresh Fruit & Veggie Program, part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.
As part of the program, “we offer fresh fruits and veggies to the students in the classroom as a mid-morning or afternoon snack,” Fliss says. “We also do Try-Day Friday, where we offer samples of different veggies or fruits that our students would not typically get to try.”
In addition to tasting new items, the students also get fact sheets about the new item and receive stickers when they try it (according to many K-12 foodservice pros, including Fliss, stickers go a long way for the littler kids!)
If they help grow it, they will try it
Meanwhile, Carrollton (Ga.) City Schools (CCS) isn’t eligible for that fruit and veggie grant, but they’ve still found a way to incorporate more produce into school meals as snacky side dishes, composed salads and breakfast items, focusing on Georgia-grown produce, and even more locally, the 25 learning gardens throughout the district.
Carrollton students get to be very hands-on with the gardens, learning about many styles of gardening, working with tower, hydroponic, aquaponics, vertical, windowsill and raised-bed gardens. It’s part of their education, and has recently been formalized as such.
“Students have been growing lettuce, basil, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots and more in the school gardens,” says Linette Dodson, Ph.D, RD, LD, director of school nutrition at CCS.
Much of the harvest turns up on the STEMsation salad bar. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower have been popular new items, along with composed kale and collard salads and the “saucy blueberries” on breakfast parfaits have also been a hit. Fresh fruit is a big part of breakfast every day.
Getting students into gardening has already paid off in terms of students’ overall eating habits at school, Dodson says.
“Our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased significantly,” she says. “Gardening has increased student acceptance and consumption. At the beginning of this school year, we were serving about 500 tossed salads and after the students grew lettuce, we had over 800 salads served.”
The fresh apple slice snack has seen similar gains, with only about 600 served but with 1,000 servings by the end of the school year.
In addition, the CCS dining team works with the Georgia Department of Agriculture as an official Georgia Test Kitchen, helping to strategically plan to use Georgia-grown foods, test recipes and standardize those recipes for schools across the state.
Chilled-out soup as a snack
When summer produce hits its peak and the kitchen is overflowing with tomatoes and cukes, there’s one great way to make use of a lot of fresh veggies—fast: gazpacho.
“One of my all-time favorite healthy snacks is gazpacho,” says Michael Lowe, CEC, retail dining executive chef at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. “Fresh tomatoes, a red pepper, cucumber, onion, cilantro, tabasco, a vegetable juice like V8, a dash of red wine vinegar or lime juice for that pop…that really helps curb the hunger between meals. It’s tasty without putting someone in a food coma. Perfect snack!”
Another summer veggie classic from Liberty U is panzanella, that Italian crusty-bread-fresh-tomato magic by Executive Chef Barry Spence, who makes his version Greek.
“I did a Greek interpretation with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and some Kalamata olives, pepperoncini and feta cheese,” Spence says. Fresh thyme and oregano provided herbaceous notes, the bread component is toasted brioche and it all come together with a red wine vinaigrette.
Taking things in another direction entirely, Liberty U Executive Chef Sal Rahim gets inspired by the crisp, clean flavors of Asian cuisine, creating mini salads for summer with fresh cucumber, yellow squash, carrots, red pepper and mint. It’s dressed with a vinaigrette of lime juice, sesame seed oil, honey, orange zest and seasoned rice vinegar, plus a garnish of tuxedo sesame seeds.
“This dish is light, fresh and healthy,” Rahim says. “It’s a light, simple snack, and it can also be served on the side of a grilled sirloin steak or a piece of salmon.”
Beat the heat with more heat
In climates like the Louisiana swamp, it makes one wonder why spicy Cajun flavors are so popular. But spicy food has been scientifically proven to help the body cool down, so let’s crank up the heat.
The dining team at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., have done just that in a fun snack form: baked Cajun crispy collard chips. Dining services has partnered with Kelrae Farms in Toano, Va., to sustainably grow produce for use that the school.
“We drizzle fresh collard greens from the farms with avocado oil, then slow air-toast it in the oven,” says Executive Chef Timothy Grayson.
The collard chips are then sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and can be dipped in ranch dressing for a guilt-free snack.
“We have a large percentage of vegan and vegetarian students, but these are enjoyed by vegetarian and carnivore alike,” Grayson says.