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<p>KITCHEN ARITHMETIC: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not as into reducing fat in our kids&rsquo; diets&hellip;I&rsquo;m more into adding good things,&rdquo; says Susan Cooper, MS RD CDN, director of wellness for Flik Independent School Dining (left), shown here doing a demo with Flik ISD Chef Jerry Reveron.&nbsp;</p>

K-12 dietitian revs up nutrition in kids’ favorite foods

Lunchtime classics get a big value-add in the form of extra veggies and other healthier ingredients.

This food is better for kids and has nothing to hide. Susan Cooper, MS RD CDN, director of wellness for Flik Independent School Dining, describes the company’s new Revved Up recipe program as a kind of stealth health 2.0.

“Several years back there was a lot of hubbub around the sneaky chef thing,” Cooper says, referring to the method of sneaking veggies into kids’ foods, often in the form of purées. 

The signature recipes she developed with Flik’s culinary team take a different path, not making a secret out of the vegetables and healthier ingredients that make familiar favorites like mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, mashed potatoes and even ranch dressing better for you, yet still completely recognizable on the lunch tray. 

“It’s recipe enhancement. It’s not meant to taste different, but some say it’s better,” Cooper says.

Currently about half of all Flik ISD accounts are using Revved Up recipes. When the program began, “We said, ‘How can we make things more nutritious but still taste the way kids like it?’” Cooper says. “And we like to promote it. At some schools they choose not to publicize it, but we recommend chefs roll it out with a demo, chopping veggies—and kids will say, ‘That’s great.’ With the parents, it’s definitely a win, because they say, ‘at least if my kid’s having pasta with marinara, for example, it’s a little bit better.’” 

revved up mac n cheese
Revved Up mac 'n cheese. Photo: Flik ISD

Here are more details on a few of the new Revved Up menu items:

Marinara sauce: “This was the first recipe we developed,” Cooper says. “Pasta’s always a favorite in schools, and it’s a challenge to get [students] out of that comfort zone.” A portion of the sauce is about two tablespoons, so it’s a small amount of veggies added per serving, but over the school year that adds up. In a batch of 60 servings, there are four more cups of veggies than in traditional marinara, including mushrooms, parsnips and onions.

Revved Up meatballs: Savory vegetables add vitamins, mineral and flavor to this beef-blend for meatballs. There’s also a version without cheese available for Flik’s kosher accounts and students with a dairy allergy. Get the recipe here

Revved Up mac ‘n cheese: Whole-grain pasta helps add more than 1.5 grams of fiber per serving, and extra veggies are incorporated into the creamy sauce. “We used butternut squash to give it that orange look,” Cooper says. 

Revved Up granola: “A lot of our schools make their own granola anyway because of peanut and tree nut allergies,” Cooper says. “And a lot of purchased ones have added sugar, so this is whole-grain based with dried fruit.”

Revved Up mashed potatoes: Potatoes are made more golden (in color and in nutritional value) with the addition of mashed root veggies like rutabagas and parsnips.

Revved Up ranch dressing: Since kids are still heavy into the trend of having ranch with absolutely everything, “this recipe is really important,” Cooper says. The switch is simple: Greek yogurt adds more calcium and protein to the condiment of choice for American kids.

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