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The Kansas School Lunch Recipe Challenge focuses on local ingredients


MANHATTAN – Though they might say the pumpkin bars were “grittier” than they were used to, students at Catholic schools in Manhattan loved them just the same.

The students were queuing for lunch when they noticed some items they had never seen before, like pumpkin bars. Another was a granola concoction that included large chunks of grain that were unlike anything they’d ever eaten in school before. Ditto for the weird dark purple applesauce which seemed to have a special ingredient that gave it a tart, albeit ‘earthy’ flavor.

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The students were right: These were items served in only a handful of other school cafeterias. They could have tested these foods — all designed by Kansas students and all made with locally sourced ingredients — before they were rolled out to schools across the state and country.

As part of a $289,000 federal grant, the Kansas State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Welfare Team organized a multi-year multi-school district recipe contest that challenged students to collaborate with local producers to develop recipes using ingredients from around the state.

“It’s so exciting to see these products that we started developing with high school students all over Kansas actually being served in a classroom,” said Kyleen Harris, director of food service at Manhattan Catholic Schools.

Harris also previously worked at the state education department, and it was she who originally organized the contest: “I’m just amazed and proud of the products that have come out.”

Kansas students designed recipes that include locally produced aronia berries, sorghum flour, and wheat berries

As part of last year’s recipe challenge, schools had to bring together teams of students, family and consumer science teachers, and local producers to develop food products that met all school nutritional guidelines, were easily scalable, and , above all, were tasty among their peers. Each competing school received a $200 grant to purchase and test recipe ingredients.

Of the dozens of recipes received by the Kansas State Department of Education’s Children’s Nutrition and Wellness team, five were deemed finalists by a panel of food service directors and worthy of large-scale testing, she said Kelly Chanay, assistant director of KSDE.

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They included the following:

Muffin Chocky Poppaa chocolate muffin recipe developed by students at West Elk High School that uses sorghum flour.

Pumpkin Breakfast Bar, made with wholemeal sorghum flour. Because sorghum flour may seem gritty to some palates, the Children’s Nutrition Directorate team modified West Elk High School’s presentation with additional oats and spices to enhance the taste and texture.

Kansas granola, a grain blend that includes whole, edible wheat grains. The recipe, developed by Valley Falls High School students, was slightly modified to include roasted soybeans as a local ingredient, as human-grade oats are hard to source locally in Kansas.

• Delicious Berries, an applesauce concoction, also developed by Valley Falls students, that uses tart cranberry-like aronia berries (also known as chokeberries). Originally created as a thick, earthy smoothie, the recipe was made into an applesauce to better handle expectations of the recipe’s texture and texture.

• Eggs-Go, boiled eggs with accompanying sauce. This recipe was initially a finalist, but was later voided in testing after food service programs found it would be too difficult for even large restaurant operations to peel so many eggs.

A chef helped with all the recipe changes, but food service directors also had to make changes to make sure each recipe scaled easily and could be made in batches of at least 100. A recipe designed for six servings won’t multiply necessarily easily in that large number, Chanay said.

“When the math comes out, it’s not always realistic,” she said. “We can’t put an eighth of an egg in a recipe.”

Other proposals, such as a sunchoke soup using Jerusalem artichokes, were considered but ultimately deemed impractical due to the large amount of work required to prepare the items from scratch.

Even Kansas cafeterias can be classrooms

With feedback from students at Catholic schools in Manhattan and previous testing at Shawnee Mission large, middle and small schools, Hutchinson and Haven, respectively, the infant nutrition team will make final adjustments to each of the four remaining recipes.

Once this step is finalized, the team will recognize all of the winning schools and prepare videos that will talk to each of the local producers about their ingredients and production process.

The team will also involve a food stylist to prepare the articles for the photos that will accompany each recipe submitted to the Institute of Child Nutrition’s Recipe Box, a national collection of easy-to-prepare and time-tested recipes. programs can use to meet US Department of Agriculture standards.

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Although the recipe challenge took several years to complete, Chanay said the collective effort among all the competing schools and child nutrition staff was worth it, especially since it involved the students. Throughout the process, they learned academic and life skills, such as multiplying fractions and working as a team.

“It’s a great educational opportunity for students who have participated in these grant activities, and you’ll end up with recipes that have been tested and approved by students,” Chanay said. “Our managers and catering staff already know that these recipes are good recipes, highlighting our local produce.”

And even for students who just taste and experience the food, the process can be a lesson, said Harris, director of food service at Manhattan Catholic Schools.

Too often adults assume that children will only eat their “favorites.”

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“(The cafeteria) is my classroom and I’m always excited to teach kids,” she said. “Anytime we can spotlight our food and teach kids about food that’s been grown near them, it’s a great opportunity for kids. Kids are open to anything, especially when you turn it into a fun event like this. They’re much more open to trying things that we give them credit for.”

Rafael Garcia is an educational reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.

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