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Blending Up New Ways for Kids to Enjoy School Meals

Posted by Dr. Melissa R. Bailey, AMS Fruit and Vegetable Program Associate Deputy Administrator in Food and Nutrition
Aug 18, 2015
A sloppy joe with vegetables
The Mushroom Council website has information to help schools incorporate mushrooms in popular meals like beef hamburgers and sloppy joes. Photo courtesy of the Mushroom Council.

Sometimes the right blend can change your perception. One of our industry research and promotion programs is remixing school meal items to help change students' preconceptions and get them to eat healthy foods.

The Mushroom Council helped out on this front in a number of ways. The Council, which is overseen by our agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – encouraged schools to use recipes that added mushrooms to their beef burgers. By reducing some of the beef and adding the hearty texture of mushrooms, schools were able to increase student consumption of healthy meals without compromising taste.

This proved to be a big hit in Indiana where 29 of the South Bend Community School Corporation’s schools successfully incorporated a blended beef and mushroom burger onto their menus. Using a blind taste test, only students with allergies were notified that the burgers contained mushrooms. And the result was a huge success! In a survey, nearly 81% of the students approved of the blended burger. “Some kids turn their nose to mushrooms,” said Karen Case, the school’s nutrition education facilitator. “However, once the students tried the blended mushroom burgers, they immediately become more adventurous eaters.”

Adding mushrooms reduced both the burger’s fat content and its dryness – a huge accomplishment for this US Healthier School Challenge winner. The blended burger is now featured several times on their monthly menu and was part of the district’s effort to expand its offering of healthier foods. The primary schools also introduced a new salad bar. “The salad bar gives our students a chance to sample new items such as fresh mushrooms and see if they would like them as part of a full meal,” said Case.

In addition to encouraging schools to add mushrooms on their menus, the Mushroom Council also provides literature and other promotional items to help schools incorporate Nature’s Hidden Treasure. From posters to factsheets, their school resources website has information for all ages – helping educate students, teachers, and foodservice personnel so that they are comfortable with mushrooms and can successfully incorporate them in their regular meal plans. 

The Mushroom Council is one of the more than 20 industry research and promotion programs that AMS oversees. These self-help programs are requested for and completely funded by the industry to develop cutting-edge promotional campaigns and innovative research to support all of its members.

As students all over the country prepare to head back to school, AMS is committed to working with industry research and promotion programs like the Mushroom Council help our children increase their consumption of healthy foods. We encourage you to visit our website to learn more about our research and promotion programs and see how they are making a difference in communities all over the world.

Students getting lunch at the salad bar
School districts like the South Bend Community School Corp. are using salad bars to let students sample mushrooms and other healthy items. USDA Photo Courtesy of Lance Cheung.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition