By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD 2017-09-05 18:19:44
Earn 1 CEU in the designated Key area and Key Topic Code noted above » Bright colors are only one sign of good-for-you produce options. One of the most common nutrition tips is to “eat a rainbow.” Schools serve rainbow fruit kebobs, rainbow salads and even entire rainbow produce bars. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are certainly gorgeous to display, delicious to eat and packed with vitamins, minerals and other good-for-you compounds. Plus, the wise advice to eat rainbows is based on science, as illustrated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Anyone who plans school meal menus knows the federal requirements for the subgroups of Dark Green, Red and Orange vegetables. These groups don’t tell the complete nutrition story: When it comes to produce, color is just one indicator of health benefits. Plants are colored by a variety of natural chemicals called pigments. These compounds—like anthocyanins (purple), carotenoids (orange), chlorophylls (green) and lycopene (red)—are also disease-fighting phytonutrients that help reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, while fighting infections, promoting good vision and maintaining healthy teeth and gums. What about fruits and vegetables without the razzle-dazzle pigments? Just because they lack the fancy colors of their bright cousins, are they devoid of nutritional value? Absolutely not! Fruits and vegetables with white peels and/or white flesh boast some important nutrients—and flavors—that can boost the value of meals at school and at home. In fact, some of them are the most popular items on America’s plates and trays! Let’s dig a little deeper into the nutritional value and flavor profiles of three white produce items: mushrooms, the onion family and potatoes. [Editors’ Note: SN recently covered bananas (March 2017) and cauliflower (March 2016) in its Food Focus column. For Dayle Hayes’ take on these two white veggie favorites, check this month’s online extras at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus.] FUN FACTS Although mushrooms are classified as an “Other Vegetable” for school meal patterns, they are not technically a plant (or animal) food. Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom, which also includes yeast and molds. MARVELOUS MUSHROOMS To discuss the importance of mushrooms, we first have to talk about umami. This fifth basic taste—after the better-known sweet, sour, salty, and bitter—comes from a Japanese word translated as “savoriness.” Umami has also been described as a rich or meaty flavor. Foods naturally high in umami include fish, shellfish, cured meats and certain vegetables (ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach and celery), as well as fermented and aged foods like cheese, shrimp paste, fish sauce and soy sauce. Mushrooms are rich in umami and synergistically increase the savoriness of food when combined with other umami-containing items. Examples include a veggie stir-fry with Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and soy sauce – or a cheese pizza with tomato sauce and mushrooms. Five years ago, mushrooms were rarely seen in school meals except on top of pizza or maybe a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The recent 2017 Mushroom Menu (from MushroomsinSchools.com) now showcases 50 ways that schools are serving them in blended meat burgers and meatballs, on salad bars and in layers of ethnic flavors. Students are also used to seeing mushrooms on the menus of their favorite restaurants. And then, of course, there is the power of umami, bringing rich flavor without added sodium. Mushrooms have no fat, cholesterol or sugars and only tiny amounts of sodium (15 milligrams) and calories (20) per serving. They also provide 6-11% daily value (DV) for potassium (depending on the variety), along with some B-vitamins. Some mushrooms naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D. When exposed to UV light, this amount can be increased to 100% DV or more! Read package labels to check for this vegan source of vitamin D. Mushrooms also contain cancer-fighting antioxidants. Bottom line: Try more mushrooms on school menus. Fresh, canned or IQF from USDA Foods, mushrooms add flavor and can help reduce the level of sodium in school meals. FUN FACTS Onions are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world, with records going back 7,000 years. Today, it’s the third most-consumed veggie in the U.S. White, yellow and red onions are the most common varieties. OPEN UP TO ONIONS Many savory recipes start with instructions to chop, dice or mince garlic, onions or scallions, adding them to sauces, soups or stir-fried dishes. What versatility! The allium family of vegetables includes chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions and shallots. Springtime is the right time to enjoy some of the less common allium veggies: Garlic scapes are curly green shoots of bulbs and have a subtler flavor than most of their pungent cousins; ramps are wild leeks that can be grilled or pickled; immature green garlic has a mellower taste than the mature cloves; and purple chive flowers add a delicate color and flavor to egg dishes and salads. Archeological records show that garlic, onions and leeks formed the basis of recipes in the Middle East as early as 1700 BCE. Today, onion family vegetables are the foundation of global cuisines as varied as East Indian, Italian and Tex-Mex. Thanks to modern research, we know that quercetin and other sulfur-containing antioxidants in allium vegetables have a host of health benefits, such as promoting prostate health and lowering blood pressure. Unfortunately, these beneficial components are the same ones that make people cry while chopping onions! Like the smelly sulfur chemicals in broccoli and cauliflower, they are disease fighters with a few negative side effects. In 2016, Prevention.com reviewed all the folk remedies for tear-free onion chopping. Their verdict: You can reduce your tears by soaking peeled onions in water for a few minutes before chopping or by hanging a piece of bread out of your mouth while chopping. All other hacks did not work or actually made the situation worse. Bottom line: Maximize the flavor power of onion family veggies. Grow garlic and chives in school gardens. Roast a variety of veggies, including onions and mushrooms, as a base for scratch-made sauces, soups and pasta dishes. FUN FACTS Potatoes are grown in all 50 states and are harvested somewhere during every month of the year! In 1995, the University of Wisconsin and NASA helped the potato become the first vegetable to be grown in space. POTATO PERFECTION Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium. They also offer moderate amounts of high-quality protein and fiber—without any fat, cholesterol or sodium. For cost-conscious consumers and menu planners, there is even-better news—potatoes and beans provide the most nutrients per penny, according to researchers at the University of Washington. In one analysis, the cost of white potatoes was about half that of other vegetables, and potatoes were among the lowest-cost sources of potassium. The bad rap that potatoes often get is not inherent to the vegetables themselves, but rather to the fact that they are often prepared as high-fat dishes. While some of these can fit into a healthy eating style, no nutrition professional would recommend them as an everyday food. The best things about potatoes in K-12 foodservice is that kids love to eat them—and there are hundreds of ways to serve them in school meals! PotatoesRaiseTheBar.com is a great place to find new potato recipes for school menus. School meals are also a great place to feature some of the lesser-known varieties of potatoes. More than a hundred varieties of potatoes are sold in the United States, but they fall into seven major categories for cooking: » Russet potatoes are the medium/large, light-brown-skinned potatoes that most home cooks use for baked and mashed potatoes. » Red potatoes have a thin skin and a subtle, sweet flavor. They roast beautifully and are a colorful addition as a side dish. » Yellow potatoes are great for lighter dishes, since their golden color means adding less oil or butter. » White potatoes are a few shades lighter, somewhat starchier and not as creamy as yellow potatoes. They don’t need to be peeled before mashing—which is arguably their best use. » Purple (or blue) potatoes are the most unusual. They tend to be an extremely starchy variety, in a marble mix of white, lavender and purple. The flesh will lighten when grilled or roasted. » Petite potatoes are really small. They are easy to roast and make for bite-sized options in a stew or soup. » Fingerling potatoes come in multiple colors. Their size and shape make them visually interesting to kids. Fingerlings roast quickly in the oven and can be served with ketchup or more exotic sauces like spicy sriracha. Bottom line: Potatoes have several nutrition advantages and they are popular with students. School meals are a great place to help kids learn that potatoes do not have to be deep-fried to be delicious. BRIGHT WHITE There is every reason to keep recommending rainbows of colorful produce to your customers at school and to your family at home. However, there is plenty of room on healthy trays and plates to include white and off-white produce items like mushrooms, onions and potatoes (plus bananas, cauliflower, jicama, parsnips, turnips, white peaches…). In fact, keep in mind USDA’s number one commandment to “Vary Your Vegetables”! (And fruits, too.) Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, is the chief cheerleader at School Meals That Rock and a social media guru to districts nationwide. Her agricultural clients include The Mushroom Council and PotatoesUSA.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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