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Mike Burke

Seconds, Please! Creative Ways to Incorporate Vegetables into a School Lunch Menu

Vegetables. While both delicious and nutritious, the mere mention of them oftentimes makes kids cringe. The good news? It’s easy to get creative when it comes to getting students to eat their veggies. Read on for a closer look at the many benefits of eating vegetables, school lunch program nutrition standards for veggies and a roundup of ideas aimed at helping you incorporate more vegetables into your school lunch (and breakfast) menus.

The Many Health Benefits of Vegetables

When your parents told you to “eat your veggies”, they weren’t saying it for their health - they were saying it for yours! With so many to choose from, veggies provide a ton of health benefits and can help reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases when incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Here are just a few of the ways vegetables provide ideal nutrition:

  • They’re low in fat and calories
  • They have no cholesterol
  • They provide critical nutrients – including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
  • They’re rich in fiber

Research shows that eating a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables has tons of health benefits.

School Lunch Program Vegetable Requirements

Wondering whether vegetables are healthiest when eaten raw or cooked? There are advantages to both! The takeaway? No matter how you eat them, vegetables are a terrific addition to any balanced diet – and to school lunch menus. They’re also necessary when it comes to meeting the national standards for meal components.

The daily required serving of vegetables for grades K-8 is ¾ cup, while students in grades 9-12 have a daily serving of 1 cup. These servings should be reflective of a variety of veggie types throughout the week based on vegetable subgroups. For example, broccoli is part of the “Dark Green” vegetable subgroup.

Four Ways to get More Veggies into School Lunches

Below you’ll find four full flavor meal ideas that showcase crafty ways to get more veggies into school lunches:

  1. Squash, Corn and Chicken Fajita Stir Fry

Who needs a field trip south of the border when you can give students southwest flavors where you are? This delicious and nutritious stir fry features seasoned chicken, fresh butternut squash, delicious corn kernels and chopped cilantro – which is sure to fill their stomachs for lunch and keep them nourished all day long.

  1. Hidden Veggie Mac & Cheese

What kid doesn’t love mac and cheese? Sneaking in a portion of veggies has never been easier than this hidden veggie mac and cheese. Cauliflower puree packs the nutrition, while gooey cheese packs the delicious.

  1. Rice Vegetable Casserole

We can all agree that cheese makes everything better. Kale and chicken broth (or chunks if you dare) mingle with a collection of spices for a sensational spin on boring rice. So good, kids won’t notice the baked in veggies.

  1. Breakfast Pizza with Hashbrown Crust

Who says you have to wait for lunch to start getting your veggies in? Turkey sausage, onions and peppers top a crispy hash brown to make the perfect breakfast dish that will fuel kids to lunchtime with no grumblings. Wanting to sneak in even more veggies? Make your hashbrowns from scratch and include cauliflower!

Need another reason to make sure kids eat their veggies during their student years? Research suggests they’re more likely to enjoy these foods as adults if they eat them as kids. We can think of no better reason for today’s foodservice directors to pat themselves on the back than by knowing they’re helping children establish positive lifelong healthy eating habits.

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