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Any Tips To Offer School Foodservice Directors Nutritious And Affordable Idaho® Potato Meal Options

Q:

Can you share what some schools have done with potatoes as a meal option to make them more nutritious?

A:

Sure, with the 2014 school year just starting up again, it is not too late to modify meal planning. Healthfully prepared Idaho® potatoes provide both low-cost and nutritious menu options for school foodservice directors. Here are some recipes that I would recommend:

BBQ Beef and Idaho® Potato Bowl
BBQ Beef and Idaho® Potato Bowl

Idaho® Potatoes Au Gratin
Idaho® Potatoes Au Gratin

Recently Author Karen Weisberg shared some of the things that are happening in school foodservice with potatoes.

School foodservice directors have long faced an array of challenges in providing nutritious and affordable meals for our nation’s youngsters; not only do the menus they plan have to meet the USDA Guidelines for specific nutrient components, but they must also be flexible enough to incorporate commodity items when available. Of course, they need to be enticing so that kids will actually eat them! And no one “size” fits all; it’s understood that taste parameters vary according to the age of the student population (typically divided by the rough index of elementary/K-5, middle or junior high/grades 6-8, and senior high school/grades 9-12), as well as by regional preferences.

Q. What are some schools doing via potato menuing and preparation?

A. At Windham (ME) schools: At the Windham (ME) district, Sharon Dixon, district supervisor for the foodservice department, notes that most of the potatoes served to its 1,400 students are baked—and nothing is deep fried.

“We also try to use oven-fried French fries—a prepared product—that are not coated,” Dixon reports. “The carbs are lower and they’re better for diabetics. Mainly, we have baked potatoes and, in our a la carte program for 6th -12th grades, we offer baked potatoes daily.”

Vegetarian chili and chopped broccoli are topping favorites, she says. Once in a while, when the district receives small red potatoes as commodities, they’re prepared as mashed potatoes. Even less frequently, instant mashed potatoes are menued and are generally prepared with water and low fat milk; selections of seasonings are available for the 6th-12th graders.

To serve a majority of the 750 middle school and more than 1,100 high school students in the Windham district, Dixon recently received 150 pounds of baking potatoes and used them all within a week.

Generally, she receives 90 or 100 count potatoes per 50 pound box. The foodservice staff scrubs them clean, pierces and bakes them. After baking, they’re split and fluffed. On the line, the staff hands the potato on a disposable plate to a student, then the kids go to the steamer/salad bar for toppings where they’re served the selection of their choice; sometimes it’s steamed chopped broccoli with steamed (canned) Cheddar cheese. But their favorite is vegetarian chili or chicken chili that’s on a few times per-week.

“It’s teaching kids about choices,” Dixon contends. “We have a huge a la carte program here—anything imaginable. Sometimes crumbled bacon is available as a topping, but kids prefer the broccoli—we raise a lot of broccoli in Maine. We don’t serve baked potatoes when it’s really hot outdoors, but even in June, on a cool rainy day, they look for soup and hot baked potatoes.”

At West Babylon (NY) Unified School District: Adrianne Goldenbaum, school foodservice director for the West Babylon (NY) Unified School District Goldenbaum notes that—no surprise—oven fries that look just like traditional French fries are “absolutely the favorite” among the district’s approximately 4,600 students. “We also get potato wedges from the government—they’re thicker and have the skin on—and also go into the oven; sometimes we season them with chili powder, pepper or garlic. We serve them in all buildings but especially in the high school where they’re on about three times per-week.”

Tots, a purchased product, are popular as well, but mashed potatoes (instant/purchased) are only menued about twice a month. “They come with dried milk and we add water to hydrate,” she explains. “We also add a bit of butter, garlic powder and pepper, then serve with gravy or not, depending on the menu; we’ll serve gravy with the mashed if it’s on with turkey, but without gravy if it’s served with ‘fried’ chicken.”

At Sparta (MI) Area Schools: FSD Tim Kleaveland prides himself on utilizing a lot of commodity products including potato rounds and oven fries; there are also baking potatoes served simply with margarine, mashed potatoes and Tater Tots (both convenience products). Potato salad, a prepared product available from his purveyor, is a fairly popular daily salad option with 15 to 20 pounds served each day. But Kleaveland occasionally splurges on oven-baked hash browns—they’re pre-formed ovals and not a commodity product. At a higher food cost than for Tater Tots or French fries, they’re indeed a once-in-awhile treat. “We do Breakfast for Lunch once or twice a month; that includes a pancake and sausage plus hash browns,” he explains. “We heat them through until they get a bit crispy, and then serve them with applesauce or ketchup.”