By Kelsey Casselbury 2018-02-08 14:06:52
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish—local fish, baked fish, commodity fish, flaked fish! Seafood might not be top-of-mind when it comes to selecting center-of-the-tray proteins for school meal menus (unless we’re talking classic fish sticks, of course). There’s some solid rationale behind that. Price point, sourcing (USDA Foods options are limited) and kid acceptance rank high on the list of reasons why fish is not the most frequently served option on the line. But, oh, how many reasons there are to include it more often! Let’s start with health and nutrition. (And in a clarifying preface, note that although some organizations draw distinctions based on different criteria, for the purposes of this article, SN is using “fish” and “seafood” synonymously.) The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that adults should eat at least two servings of seafood (8 ounces total) each week, though children are advised to eat less, due to the mercury content in many fish species. Despite this expert encouragement, Americans currently eat an average of just 2.7 ounces of seafood per person per week. Consumption studies find we’re mostly eating shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaska pollock—this last mostly in the form of those ubiquitous fish sticks or nuggets. What do nutrition experts see in seafood? In general, it provides an abundance of protein, but doesn’t have the harmful saturated fat that many other popular animal proteins do. Its real benefit, though, is the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests can help reduce the risk of heart disease (great for adults), aid in healthy brain function (important for all ages) and may decrease the risk of depression and other mental health problems. Of course, not all seafood is the same, nutritionally speaking. While most seafood is certainly a good option overall, some varieties provide a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids than others. Of the varieties you’re most likely to menu in schools, canned albacore tuna and salmon are highest in omega-3s; if you’re upping your consumption at home, consider sardines, oysters, mussels, mackerel and rainbow trout as good options (but before shopping, review the information on mercury levels on page 43). In school meal programs, providing and promoting nutritious choices is a top priority—but it’s not the only priority. Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges school nutrition professionals experience when seeking to capitalize on the opportunities of menuing seafood in schools. SOURCING SEAFOOD In the majority of school districts, particularly in landlocked states, seafood options are limited to manufacturer products you can bid, as well as what’s on the USDA Foods Available List. For SY 2017-18, that includes frozen Alaska pollock, whole grain-rich breaded Alaska pollock sticks (new for this school year), whole grain-rich breaded catfish fillet strips and chunk light canned tuna. Other districts however (especially those located near the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts) have found opportunities to procure various types of local seafood. For example, Farm to Institution New England, a six-state network of public, private and nonprofit entities, promoted a 2016 case study featuring Gloucester (Mass.) Public Schools, whose then-foodservice director, Phil Padulsky, established a partnership with Cape Ann Fresh Catch, a community-supported fishery in the city. The partnership helped the district in procuring fresh seafood from a local distributor, Ocean Crest. Although the local seafood cost was between $4.25 to $6 per pound—considerably higher than conventionally sourced fish items—Padulsky reportedly was committed to this variation on farm to school procurement. Unfortunately, the plate cost was too high to sustain over the long run and the program has since ceased, according to Gloucester’s current foodservice team. On the other side of the country, Real Good Fish (also a community-supported fishery) aims to expand seafood offerings to Bay-area California schools, including the Monterey (Calif.) Unified School District. The company partnered with the Center for Ecoliteracy in 2014 to provide seafood to districts in a cost-effective but unique manner—they purchase fish that is typically discarded as bycatch by local fisherman. Grenadier, a mild, white fish, is served in tacos, burrito bowls and other recipes where you might see a similar type of fish. In 2017, the project received a $95,000 Farm to School Program grant from USDA that it’s using to fund fisherman visits to classrooms, as well as to procure and menu local seafood and other related initiatives. This program is ongoing. When it comes to sourcing local seafood, many districts do so not only to provide more options for their students, but also to procure sustainable protein options and support their local communities. If you live in an area where you think this type of partnership might be feasible for your district, New Hampshire Farm to School, in its Sea to School guide (http://tinyurl.com/S2Sguide-SNMag), suggests questions to ask yourself and potential vendors: » Do you want your seafood to be traceable back to a particular boat or group of boats? » Is it important to you to support fisherman-owned businesses or independently owned boats? » Will you purchase a sufficient volume of seafood to require a formal or informal procurement process? (USDA requires that purchases over the current $3,500 annual micro-purchase threshold follow a bid process.) » How will you determine which types of seafood you want to purchase for schools? The Guide recommends writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) rather than an Invitation for Bid (ITB), as the former allows you to incorporate more details about the product than the latter (which is usually based solely on price). BUDGETARY BLOCKADES Anyone who’s shopped at the seafood counter knows that fish isn’t cheap. Even the aforementioned grenadier averages around $5 per pound—so how do cash-strapped school foodservice programs make it work? At Florence (Texas) Independent School District, Child Nutrition Director Lillian Barnett uses most of her program’s USDA Foods allotment dollars for popular center-of-the-plate proteins—a practice of most fiscally minded directors. This way, she can afford $1 or more per serving for a fish selection that will be selected by fewer customers—and “still keep the overall meal service in budget,” she says. Indeed, Barnett tries not to stress about the per-day cost of meals. “Instead, I try to average it out for the week. We shoot for $1.50 per meal in food cost. ” WINNING OVER THE STUDENTS Breaded fish tenders and nuggets? Yes. Fish tacos? Maybe. Anything else fishy likely to be a hit on school menus? Well….it’s going to take time. Students—particularly those in landlocked states—are notoriously wary about fish. However, that’s most likely due to a lack of familiarity. Therefore, the school nutrition staff’s job is to promote, educate and promote some more! For schools that have a local seafood source, check to see if fishermen (and women), processors and distributors are willing to come to your school sites to do some of that education and promotion for you. Jackie Morgan, director of nutrition services, Milton (Mass.) School District, partnered with Red’s Best, a Boston-based seafood wholesaler that sources from approximately 1,000 local boats around southern New England. Morgan invited the company’s CEO, Jared Auerbach, to speak to high-schoolers about the local fishing economy; Red’s Best also brought more than 20 local seafood species to create an informational display in a high school cafeteria. “The students got to see firsthand what their fish looks like, hold it, take pictures with it and really talk to the staff at Red’s Best to understand this entire concept of local and sustainable species,” Morgan recounts. Milton’s nutrition services department had ordered 50 pounds of fresh white fish to serve the day of that first educational promotion—and they ran out. Next time, they ordered 100 pounds. “Can you just imagine students at a local high school eating fresh fish for lunch? Quite an amazing day!” Morgan exclaims. At these events, the team typically buys the “Catch of the Day,” which could be pollock, hake or haddock—whatever is most abundant on any given day. Whenever there is any leftover fish, the staff cooks up a local fish chowder to serve on a later date. If there’s any place where seafood isn’t a mystery to kids, it’s in Alaska, where options—both familiar and less common—are far more plentiful than in the lower 48. Salmon and halibut are popular, reports Jo Dawson, MS, SNS, state director for Child Nutrition programs in the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development. Of course, Alaska pollock is a given! “Besides being a healthy food, seafood is a wonderful way Alaska is able to really celebrate local foods during the whole school year,” she notes. “We may have a limited growing season [for produce], but our seafood is a year-round option.” Dawson explains that several years ago, the Alaska governor established a three-year grant to support local food purchases by school districts. To aid districts in menuing and preparing the local seafood options, the Alaska state agency created a cookbook featuring 12 pollock recipes, such as a banh mi, lettuce wraps and fish parmigiano. (The recipe book is currently accessible to all online at https://tinyurl.com/alaskaseafood-snmag.) “The grant is gone, but we still see local foods on menus in different schools,” Dawson notes. That includes Utqiagvik, part of the North Slope Borough School District—the northernmost school district in the United States, located along the Arctic Ocean—which Dawson visited in September 2017 and enjoyed a fabulous halibut lunch (see photos on page 45). Florence, Texas, Barnett knows that she’s working with a smaller pool of student customers who are willing to try new seafood entrées. Therefore, her team has a plan to gradually roll out fish items. “Whenever we offer a totally new item, we will sample it the week before,” she explains. “[The students] are much more likely to sample something than to commit their whole lunch to a new item.” The staff solicits feedback and makes adjustments as necessary. Next, they offer the item as a second choice, planning that approximately 20% to 30% of the students will take it. “We feed about 400 kids, so we will usually prepare about 100 servings of fish,” Barnett continues. Barnett gets most of her fish—specifically, tuna, catfish and pollock—from USDA and typically offers familiar lunches made from these ingredients. “We make tuna salad sandwiches about once a week, and the little kids like that,” she says. “Middle and high school students like the pollock wedge sandwich, fish sticks and tuna salad sandwiches and wraps.” She’s played around with adding shrimp or fish to their chicken-and-sausage gumbo as something new, but there are students with shellfish allergies. “That adds another level of concern,” Barnett says. GETTING YOUR SEA LEGS Communities in coastal states might have an advantage when it comes to procuring fresh seafood, but those districts further inland should never give up on offering new healthy fish options to students. After all, helping them to develop a familiarity with fish as youngsters should lead to a new generation of adults meeting those Dietary Guidelines targets. Try out some fresh, but not too crazy, seafood recipes, such as fish tacos, a roasted fish wrap with slaw or a Cajun fish sandwich. Your students might just surprise you with sophisticated, seafood-loving palates. Thai-Style Fish Tacos 12 lbs. Alaska Pollock fish sticks, whole-grain, breaded 3 cups Thai-style chili sauce 48 Tortillas, whole-grain, 8-in. 1 lb., 11 ozs. Purple cabbage, thinly sliced 3 ozs. Green onions, thinly sliced 1 1⁄2 ozs. Cilantro, chopped 1⁄4 cup, 2 Tbsps. Lime juice As needed Pan release spray 1) Preheat the oven to 400°F (convection) or 425°F (conventional). 2) Spray sheet pans with pan release spray. Place the fish sticks in a single layer on the pans, being careful not to crowd the pieces. For best quality, batch cook the fish sticks. About 20 minutes before service, bake in a preheated oven for about 13 to 15 minutes (convection) or 16 to 18 minutes (conventional). Remove from oven and hold at 135°F or higher. 3) Heat the chili sauce to 135°F or higher and hold. 4) Soften the tortillas in a warmer. 5) In a mixing container, combine the cabbage, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. Stir until just combined. Hold at 41°F or below until service. 6) To assemble each serving, place a softened tortilla in a portion container. Place four fish sticks into each tortilla. Drizzle the fish sticks with 1 Tbsp. of the chili sauce. Top each taco with 1⁄4 cup of the cabbage mixture. Serve immediately. *Note: Kikkoman Thai-Style Chili Sauce can be used in this recipe. Nutrition information may vary based on brand of tortillas used. Recipe, Photo, Nutrition and Meal Pattern Analyses: Kikkoman, www.kikkomanusa.com Kitchen Wisdom • We think this is a good variation of the traditional fish taco. It would be best for older students, but it could be okay for the smaller ones if the heat level in the chili sauce was not too high. • I would use enough slaw to be able to credit it as part of my vegetable for the day. • Using a squeeze bottle to “drizzle” the sauce on top would make it look better and give more control over how much each taco gets. • This has many ingredients to stuff into a taco/tortilla as student guests go through line. It’s time-consuming even at pre-prep. • It’s fairly simple, colorful and has some cultural popularity behind it. Also, having fish sticks as the core of the recipe may broaden its appeal. SERVES 48 PER SERVING* 378 cal., 12.8 g fat, 20 g pro., 47 g carb., 6 g fiber, 686 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 3-oz.-eq. grains Fiesta Tuna Rice Bowl 10 lbs., 12 ozs. Tuna, chunk light, low-sodium, packed in water, drained 3 #10 cans Corn, whole-kernel, low-sodium, drained 4 #10 cans Black beans, low-sodium, rinsed and drained 2 #10 cans Enchilada sauce 10 cups Red onions, diced 1⁄3 cup Chili powder 1⁄4 cup Cumin 3 lbs. Monterey Jack cheese, finely shredded 50 cups Brown rice, cooked Optional Sour cream, guacamole and/or salsa As needed Pan release spray *Notes: StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water, Low-Sodium can be used in this recipe. Addition of the optional condiments will change the nutritional analysis. Recipe, Photo, Nutritional and Meal Pattern Analyses: StarKist Foodservice, www.starkistfoodservice.com 1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Using release spray, prepare four full-size pans, 2-in. deep. 2) Mix together the tuna, corn, beans, onions, enchilada sauce, chili powder and cumin. 3) Divide the tuna mixture evenly among the pans. 4) Cover the pans with foil. Bake for 1 hour or until an internal temperature of 165°F is reached and held for 15 seconds. Hold the pans in a warming cart above 135°F. 5) Divide each full pan into 25 (5x5) equally-sized servings. Serve one portion of tuna, topped with 1⁄2 oz. cheese over 1⁄2 cup rice. Offer accompaniments (sour cream, guacamole, salsa) as desired. Kitchen Wisdom • This would be a great build-a-rice-bowl bar concept, but I’m not 100% sure how the students would react to a Mexican-seasoned tuna. I’d do a tasting first, so the kids can warm up to the idea. • Add a fun fruit salsa, like pineapple or mango, for a sweet topping! • The recipe looks good, different and intriguing. The Midwest customer base may struggle with combining black beans and enchilada sauce with the tuna. But it’s worth a try, for sure! • It seems fairly simple, which is a plus. I lik e the spice mix for it, as well. My one criticism is that the c olor combination doesn’t really pop, but pairing with broccoli, like in the photo, is a good suggestion. • Tuna is very strong in flavor, and we don’t think it would pair well with the red enchilada sauce. Green enchilada sauce might be a better choice. Or, remove the tuna and make it a vegetarian entrée. • I suspect that this may not be a massively popular item, as most kids are leery of fish, but it w ould be an excellent second entrée option. SERVES 100 PER SERVING* 407 cal., 6.8 g fat, 26.7 g pro., 62.7 g carb., 11.5 g fiber, 451 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2.25-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 1⁄4 cup starchy vegetables, 1⁄4 cup legumes, 1-oz.-eq. grains What About Mercury? The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends two servings of seafood a week for adults, but cautions that children should consume less. This is because of the potential for mercury contamination in seafood, which occurs when fish absorb mercury in polluted waterways. If a human eats too much mercury, it can affect the body’s organs. In young children, too much mercury can cause neurological damage. So, how much is too much? The Food and Drug Administration released new guidance in January 2017 for pregnant women and parents of young children, outlining the best choices for seafood (which can be eaten two to three times a week), good choices (which can be eaten once a week) and which seafood to avoid. On that “best” list: catfish, cod, crab, flounder, haddock, perch, pollock, salmon, shrimp, tilapia and canned light tuna, among others. On the “good” list: grouper, halibut, mahi mahi, snapper and albacore tuna, to name a few. Avoid king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish and bigeye tuna. Big fish that liv e long lives, such as marlin, shark and swordfish, tend to be the riskiest species for this contamination, as they consume smaller fish and the mercury levels accumulate over time. Torta De Alaska Pollock Verde 16.5 lbs. Alaska Pollock fillets 3 qts. Green salsa, prepared 64 Bolillo-style buns, whole grain-rich 16 Avocados, small, quartered 1⁄4 cup Canola oil 2 Tbsps. Garlic, minced 2 Tbsps. Ground cumin 9 lbs. Black beans, canned, low-sodium, drained 16 cups Lettuce, shredded 1 qt. Water 2 qts. Red onion, 1⁄4-in. julienne slices 1 qt. Apple cider vinegar 2 tsps. Sugar 2 tsps. Salt 1) Place the Alaska Pollock fillets in a 4-in. full-size steamtable pan. Cover it with parchment paper and then seal the pan tightly with foil. Bake in a 425°F convection oven for 1 hour. 2) Remove the foil and parchment paper, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Some natural liquid from the fillets may remain in the pan, which can be kept for additional moisture or poured off, as desired. 3) Pour the green salsa over the baked fish and break up the fillets until the salsa is evenly distributed and the fish is chunky. Hold hot at 135°F or higher. 4) To prepare the refried black beans: Place a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the canola oil and garlic. Cook the garlic for about 2 minutes, then stir in the ground cumin. 5) Add the black beans and water. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. 6) Blend into a coarse puree with an immersion blender. Hold hot at 135°F or higher. 7) To prepare the pickled red onions: Combine apple cider vinegar, sugar and salt in a container and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add and press the onions down into the brine; add more vinegar if the onions are not fully submerged. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to five days. Hold chilled at 41°F or below. 8) To assemble: Split the whole-grain bolillo-style bun in half, down the center. Spread a quarter of an avocado over the cut side of the top bun. Spread 1⁄4 cup of refried black beans on the cut side off the bottom bun. Place 3 ozs. of pollock and salsa over top of the black beans, and top with 1⁄4 cup shredded lettuce and 2 Tbsps. pickled red onions. Place the top bun over the fillings, slice the sandwich in half on the bias and serve. Note: An Alaska Pollock fillet block can be used in this recipe. A bolillo bun is a bread popular in Mexico and Latin America, considered similar to French bread. Recipe, Photo and Nutritional and Meal Pattern Analysis: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, www.alaskaseafood.org Kitchen Wisdom • It’s nice to see interesting ingredients like “Bolillo-style buns.” You can post a sign on the service line, so staff and students can learn that these are like crusty French rolls. • The avocado might turn brown. Consider using avocado pulp that has been pre-treated. • I love the color of the dish, but, honestly, I’m not a fan of this many steps for a recipe. Time is a luxury. • I think that this would be a tough sell at the elementary level. • The recipe cost may be too high for us, between the specialty Bolillo bun, the avocado and the fish. • Standard refried beans are preferred in our area over black beans, so we would substitute these. SERVES 64 PER SERVING 396 cal., 25 g pro., 11.5 g fat, 48 g carb., 14 g fiber, 537 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 3-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 1⁄4 cup beans/peas, 1⁄8 cup other vegetable, 1-oz.-eq. grain Fish Po ’Boy With Cajun Sauce 2 cups Mayonnaise, light 1⁄2 cup Chili sauce 2 Tbsps. Cajun spice mix 2 Tbsps. Lemon juice 2 Tbsps. Yellow mustard 2 Tbsps. Garlic powder 1 Tbsp. Hot sauce 25 French rolls 25 Fish fillets, breaded 12 1⁄2 cups Romaine lettuce, shredded 6 1⁄4 cups Tomatoes, fresh, diced 3 1⁄8 cups Red onions, cut into rings 1) To prepare the Cajun Sauce: Combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce, Cajun spice mix, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder and hot sauce in a large bowl. Hold at 41°F until ready to serve. 2) Press the French rolls open and spread 1 Tbsp. of the Cajun sauce across one side of each roll. 3) Place one fish fillet on each roll on top of the sauce. Keep warm until service. 4) For each serving, provide a garnish of 1⁄2 oz. lettuce, 1⁄4 oz. tomatoes and 1⁄8 oz. red onions. *Note: Pillsbury French Bread can be used in this recipe. Nutrition information may vary based on the specific brand of breaded fish fillets used. Recipe and Photo: General Mills Convenience & Foodservice, www.generalmillscf.com Nutritional and Meal Pattern Analyses: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com, calculated using Meals Plus, a USDA-approved software SERVES 25 PER SERVING* 410 cal., 19 g fat, 23 g pro., 37 g carb., 3.3 g fiber, 747.5 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2-oz-.eq. meat/meat alternate, 1⁄4 cup dark green vegetables, 1 1⁄4 cup red/orange vegetables, 1⁄8 cup other vegetables, 2.25-oz.-eq. grains Northwest Tuna Salad 8 1⁄3 lbs. Tuna, water-packed, drained 3 cups Mayonnaise, reduced-fat 1⁄2 cup Lemon juice 3⁄4 tsp. Salt 1⁄2 tsp. Pepper 3 cups Celery, diced finely 1 1⁄2 cups Onion, chopped finely 2 2⁄3 lbs. Pears, canned, drained, diced 1) In a large bowl, flake the tuna into small pieces. 2) Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, celery and onion into the tuna. Mix well. Stir in the salt and pepper. 3) Fold the pears into the tuna mixture until well-distributed. Keep chilled until service. Note: Consider serving on buns as a tuna salad sandwich, but be advised that this will change the nutritional analysis. Recipe, Photo and Nutritional Analysis: Pacific Northwest Canned Pears, www.eatcannedpears.com Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com, calculated using Meals Plus, a USDA-approved software SERVES 48 (1⁄2 cup) PER SERVING 159 cal., 6 g fat, 20 g pro., 6 g carb., 1 g fiber, 394 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2.75-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate Recipes published in School Nutrition have not been tested by the magazine or SNA in a school foodservice setting, except for certain “Kitchen Wisdom” selections, which are evaluated by a volunteer pool of operators. When available, nutrient analyses are provided by the recipe source. Required ingredients, preparation steps and nutrient content make some recipes more appropriate for catering applications or adult meals. Readers are encouraged to test recipes and calculate their own nutrition analyses, meal patterns and HACCP steps. Kelsey Casselbury is an SN contributing editor. She is based in Odenton, Md.
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