MCPS conducts taste tests of proposed plant-based school meals
When Springbrook High School student Naomi Richardson first took a bite of the “sweet potatoes,” she was surprised by the ranch sauce that coated the plate with sweet potatoes.
“I liked the sweet potatoes, but when it came to the sauce, it was too tangy and ranchy,” she said.
Richardson and about a dozen middle and high school students tried the dish and several others Thursday during a tasting session at MCPS’s Food and Nutrition Services Division of several plant-based meal options. Montgomery County Public Schools are considering for school lunches.
For Richardson, who is neither vegetarian nor vegan, flavor is imperative when it comes to adding plant-based options to school menus.
“Sometimes it can be a little appetizing but for that, I lean for the vegetable [menu] you have to add a lot more seasoning if you really want to enjoy it,” she said.
Real Food for Kids has partnered with Silver Diner and Montgomery County Public Schools to develop plant-based recipes for school lunches. The recipes, created by Silver Diner Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst, were sampled by more than a dozen MCPS middle and high school students.
“We knew we needed it. We knew our students wanted to see other foods, they wanted to see vegan and vegetarian dishes, and they wanted to see vegan and vegetarian dishes that were different from a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” said Barbara Harral, Director of the MCPS Division of Food and Nutrition Services.
Real Food for Kids has partnered with Silver Diner and Montgomery County Public Schools to develop plant-based recipes for school lunches. Real Food for Kids is an advocacy group that aims to change eating behaviors and improve the health of children and families in the Greater Washington area through sustainable access to whole foods, nutrition education, and lifestyle changes. Politics.
Ype Von Hengst, founder and executive chef of the Rockville-based Silver Diner chain, created the recipes for MCPS. Hengst won Food Network’s “Chopped” contest in 2017.
“Real Food for Kids really wants to see school food as a customer experience like restaurants do,” said Bonnie Moore, group executive director and board member. “Silver Diner has one of the healthiest children’s menus in the country and Chef Ype has been recognized nationwide for his healthy school menus.”
Moore said Barbara Harral, director of MCPS’s food and nutrition services division, and her team identified the need to develop plant-based, vegan dishes for school menus. “We knew we needed it. We knew our students wanted to see other foods, they wanted to see vegan and vegetarian dishes, and they wanted to see vegan and vegetarian dishes that were different from a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Harral said.
Leah Becker, a student at Poolesville High School, is a vegetarian and said she would like to have other plant-based options at her school. She said current vegetarian lunch options include pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cheese crisps, which are square-shaped fried mozzarella.
“This year I mostly brought my lunch because I can never predict if they’re going to have something I can eat,” she said.
The group of students tasted two vegan dishes and two vegetarian options. The two vegan options were the “sweet potatoes,” made with sweet potatoes, a mix of sweet peppers, and ranch sauce; and Thai red curry sauce over edamame and chickpeas with whole grain rice. The vegetarian dishes were a white bean and pesto dip with roasted tomatoes on a flatbread and a three bean torta with roasted corn salad.
Hengst said it’s his passion to provide healthier food options to those he serves.
“Silver Diner, we’ve been around for 33 years, we wouldn’t have been around for 33 years if we hadn’t embraced our food and changed our food and listened to our guests,” Hengst said. “So the same thing is happening here at school.”
The students first tasted the white bean and pesto dip with roasted tomatoes on a flatbread. The dish needed more tomatoes, they said, and there were fears the flathead would get soggy. As for the “sweet potatoes,” students said the dish should be spicier, the potatoes should be crispier, and the tangy ranch sauce should be served on the side.
Most of the students thought the dishes needed more salt. But adding sodium to school food presents its own problems, Harral told students.
“We have sodium goals to meet in school lunches, so one of the challenges for us is that we have on average a week of meals that we have to meet a sodium goal,” Harral said. “So often there’s a lot of dishes where we say ‘Oh, I love that, I’d like to add more salt’ and because of the hidden sodium, we can’t do that.”
None of the tasting dishes are the final product. Harral said there will be multiple food tastings as they continue to refine menu items based on student feedback.
“We’ll take it all [the students] talked to us about it so that we could fine-tune the recipes and the concepts,” said Harral. “What we will do is we will go back to the schools, especially Springbrook and Paint Branch [high schools] because of their culinary training programs and it was the kids who got a taste of it the first few times, so we’re going to work with them and say, ‘Okay, here’s what you told us, here’s what we did, now that ‘do you think?’ Once we get that kind of second perspective from them, we’ll probably do a bigger taste test. »
Harrah said a few meatless options are currently available in elementary, middle and high schools, such as Morningstar Farm’s vegan nuggets, Dr. Praeger’s vegan burgers, roasted butternut squash soup and three-bean chili, which ‘she said the students seem to like it.
Towards the end of the tasting, a student commented that it might be difficult to fit the menu items into schools when served alongside unhealthy options such as burgers and pizza. According to Harral, there is already a plan in place to remedy the introduction of the menu.
“We know kids, if they see a chicken nugget, they’re going to have a chicken nugget, but we’re top of the menu with our plant-based products,” she said. “So instead of saying ‘today’s special: chicken nuggets, pizza’, we’re leading with our appetizer salads and plant-based, edgy entrees. [menu items]. Then at the bottom of the menu we have what we call our fan favorites.