Bowling children over with whole grains

by Jeff Gelski
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Spicy grain bowl
A spicy grain bowl featuring hot barley, arugula, salted fennel, grape tomatoes and bacon was showcased at the Whole Grains Council conference.

ROSEMONT, ILL. – Grain bowls are appearing in many places. So why not school lunches?

“Everybody is doing bowls,” said Coleen Donnelly, corporate chef, K-12 segment for InHarvest, which provides artisan grains, rice and legumes to its food service customers. “Chipotle does bowls. It’s super easy. You have a bunch of ingredients out in front of you. You get to make your choices. It’s very popular with fast-food, very popular with kids. We’re seeing it everywhere.”

Salad bars at schools are another opportunity. A Boulder Valley School District in Colorado offers whole grains every day in meals and in the salad bars, said Ann Cooper, a chef known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady.”

“If you want to get kids to eat whole grains, then put it in the salad bars where (students) have a choice, where they really can choose,” she said. “If they don’t like it, they still have a whole other meal. So salad bars are a great way to get kids to eat whole grains.”

Ann Cooper, chef
A Boulder Valley School District in Colorado offers whole grains every day in meals and in the salad bars, said chef Ann Cooper.

Ms. Donnelly and Ms. Cooper spoke Sept. 25 at a Whole Grains Council conference in Rosemont called “Whole Grains in Foodservice, the Next Frontier.” They presented ways to help school districts meet whole grain requirements for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program.

Ms. Donnelly created a spicy grain bowl in a demonstration. First, she placed hot barley at the bottom of the bowl.

“Barley has that really lovely, chewy, sort of gummy-bear texture,” Ms. Donnelly said.

Then she added layers of arugula, salted fennel, grape tomatoes and bacon.

“This is all about layering textures, layering hot and cold, layering flavors, surprising people with things, making it interesting,” she said.

Coleen Donnelly, corporate chef, K-12 segment for InHarvest with Shaker salad
Ms. Donnelly created a shaker salad that featured a rice blend of sprouted brown rice, long grain brown rice, heirloom red rice and sprouted red rice.

Ms. Donnelly created a shaker salad that featured a rice blend of sprouted brown rice, long grain brown rice, heirloom red rice and sprouted red rice. Other layers in the salad in a cup were black beans, cilantro, corn and red bell peppers.

“It’s very beautiful,” she said. “It’s very colorful.”

The lunch room staff needs to learn how to cook with whole grains, said Ms. Cooper, founder of the Chef Ann Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Boulder that focuses on solutions for school food.

She said the staff should do more than just open cans and boxes of processed food. She preferred whole grain school meal items made from scratch as opposed to more processed whole grain items such as nachos -- “Whole grains at its worst,” she said. -- and chicken nuggets.

“We want to get people to think about the taste and flavor and how delicious this stuff is,” Ms. Cooper said of whole grain items. “We don’t want to beat them over the head with how healthy it is. We want to get them to just taste it and be excited about it.”

Michael Holleman, director of culinary development for InHarvest
Michael Holleman, director of culinary development for InHarvest, said getting students to eat whole grains in colleges is an easier task.

Compared to kindergarten through high school, getting students to eat whole grains in colleges and universities is an easier task, said Michael Holleman, director of culinary development for InHarvest, Bemidji, Minn. First, the food service programs at colleges and universities tend to have larger budgets. Second, having already eaten whole grains in high school for four years, the students in higher education expect to see them in meals.

“Their palates are expanding quicker, honestly, than the colleges and universities can keep up with them,” Mr. Holleman said.

Mr. Holleman said he has worked in food service for more than two decades.

”Whole grains have been my life every single day,” he said. “You would think it would get boring, but I can say to this day, I love it the same today, if not more, than when I got started.” 

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