A Healthy Head Start

Whole grains and fruits and vegetables help increase the health of staple breakfast items.

Avocados from Mexico's egg tortilla scramble.

The emphasis on healthy has managed to permeate every daypart and breakfast is no exception. Several non-commercial operators have been trying to put a healthy spin on classic breakfast dishes by using whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

The emphasis on healthy has managed to permeate every daypart and breakfast is no exception. Several non-commercial operators have been trying to put a healthy spin on classic breakfast dishes by using whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

After a successful “Taste and Tweet” event held at the Michigan State University’s test kitchen over the summer, Corporate Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski launched his new avocado frittata, which ups the health factor by including avocados as part of a breakfast favorite. For the contest 10 Twitter followers of MSU were invited to join the dining staff for lunch—and give their candid reviews of various new dishes. The avocado frittata was one of students’ favorites and is now being offered several times a month at campus dining venues that serve breakfast, alongside such basics as eggs and biscuits with sausage gravy.

Kwiatkowski says the frittata is made with diced Hass avocados, a variety known as the “year-round” avocado because it’s grown in several countries and can be harvested all year. It also includes julienned Peppadew, a sweet piquanté pepper from South Africa with a rich, juicy consistency. The avocados and peppers are mixed together lightly with diced garlic, sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, then left to marinate for 20 minutes to let the flavors meld. The dish is topped with a mixture of eggs, grated Romano cheese, milk, chopped cilantro, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. It’s baked in a covered cast iron skillet for 25 minutes, then baked uncovered until lightly brown.

The recipe is the first in a series of Culinary Services’ new Smart Foods Program, which offers students health conscious choices, says Amanda Vasas, communications manager for Residential and Hospitality Services. The program also features a food and cooking demonstration by Chef Kwiatkowski once a month. MSU’s six different campus neighborhoods comprise numerous dining halls, coffee shops and cafés, many of which present typical hot breakfast staples along with the occasional special. Brody Hall recently offered a special of banana and chocolate bread pudding, while the Holmes and Landon dining halls had potato pancakes, hot applesauce and maple sausage links.

Healthy and hot: Students at the Dodgeville (Wis.) School District are enjoying a warm breakfast thanks to Director of Food Services Shirley Bookens, who has created an array of breakfast entrées using the best of on-hand premade foods. The district includes two grade schools, a middle school and a high school.

Dodgeville’s dining services makes a popular breakfast stromboli for the high school, using housemade bread dough, which is made and stored at the high school kitchen. Cafeteria cooks roll out the dough, spread it with butter, then sprinkle on powdered garlic and chopped pieces of sausage and shredded mozzarella cheese. They roll the stuffed bread into small loaves and bake until it is lightly browned.

Bookens also offers a twist on lunch at all the schools with a breakfast chicken-and–biscuit sandwich, made with a premade chicken patty: a small, bread crumb-coated patty, combined with a premade baking powder biscuit and baked. “That was very well received,” she says.

The district hopes to increase the health factor of the breakfast menu as food budgets allow, opting for more whole grains, organics and fresh-made food components. “We’re working on it,” Bookens says. “Healthier is more expensive.”

For variety, Bookens created a fruit parfait with granola for students at Dodgeville High School, a treat that “has gone over really well with the kids,” she says. Cafeteria workers layer yogurt and granola in plastic serving cups, adding spoonfuls of the freshest chopped fruits available. “Next week, I will offer fresh watermelon, grapes, muskmelon and pears at breakfast, along with bananas, as a fruit choice,” she says. “A week or so ago, I had fresh strawberries for breakfast. I had melon and muskmelon too. They love [the fruit] for breakfast.”

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Department of Child Nutrition launched its own healthier menu to coincide with a combined initiative that gives all students not only free breakfast in the morning but also time to eat it. The combined Breakfast in the Classroom and Free Universal Breakfast programs were implemented during the 2009-2010 school year, says Steve Gallagher, director of Child Nutrition for Chartwells at the account.

Students have their choice of three different free breakfast items that are served during homeroom, while they’re taking out their homework and getting settled in, he says. Two of the more popular items being served daily during homeroom are whole-grain bagels and freshly made fruit yogurt parfait with granola. The parfaits are made with dried cherries, blueberries, strawberries or fresh cherries. Employees fill the bottom of a plastic cup with a spoonful of fruit, then add a scoop of vanilla low-fat yogurt and granola; tiers are layered twice.

“The students absolutely love them,” Gallagher says. “We’re able to use a lot of USDA commodities we receive.”

Local breakfast: At global law firm Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh, Parkhurst Dining Services Executive Chef Jeff Shaffer is focused on bringing local produce into the cafe to help improve healthy offerings. The café offers omelets stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, onions and tomatoes, some culled from his rooftop terrace or sourced from local purveyors, Shaffer adds. He also offers a cholesterol-free egg substitute.

Guests also can make their own yogurt parfaits at a bar featuring multiflavored yogurts: peach, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and banana, ready to be dipped into a parfait glass and topped with crunchy granola and seasonal fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grapes, strawberries and pineapple. Most of the fruits are sourced locally when available.


Smoothing Out Breakfast

When Corporate Executive Chef Christian Fischer wanted to improve breakfast choices for the 133 school systems served by Flik Independent Schools Dining, he looked to the latest student craze: portability. Fischer oversees the development of healthy dining made from local, sustainable ingredients, plenty of whole grains and very little dairy. So Fischer, a native of Austria, created a portable and dairy-free oatmeal parfait as a healthier spin-off of European muesli.

“Portable is really big in schools right now. Students want to just grab it and go; they don’t want to sit and wait. Our chefs see what they need from a sustainable need and from a culinary need, and we provide that portability to them. The whole idea of the smoothies was, what is out there that kids are confronted with every day? All the local restaurants are doing smoothies.

The next step was how to create an item that is healthy, and also allowing the chefs to use local ingredients. Next was to keep it healthy by staying away from preservatives. We stay away from dairy products in general because more and more students are lactose intolerant.

The final concern was, how can we make smoothies taste great and be exciting? We added peanut butter. When we make it, we add all the ingredients into our Vitamix. The students have the choice whether to drink it cold, or mixing in crushed ice and drinking it like a slushie.”

At my old company [Lackmann] we made this parfait. We used raw oatmeal. We soak or marinate two containers of Quaker Oats overnight in vanilla soymilk. Next we take the liquid out and purée the liquid with a frozen banana. We add a bit more fluid if it needs it. It makes a really thick substance.

We then add it back into the cold oatmeal and mix it up and put it in a yogurt parfait container. We layer it with granola on the bottom, fresh blueberries, then the oatmeal mix; then repeat. It makes a really great breakfast dish because it’s filling.

Everybody looks at it and says, ‘Eww, cold, raw oatmeal.’ But they love it. It will last three to four days because it’s never really been cooked, and there’s no milk or cultures in it, so it doesn’t spoil. For our locations we make it fresh every day. We did a lot of research for this. It’s our strong feeling as a culture that if food can make you sick, it can also make you healthy.”

Fischer’s Original Oatmeal Parfait

One batch (about 24 portions)

2 24-oz. canisters Old Fashioned Quaker Oats
1 gal. vanilla soymilk
1 frozen banana, peeled
24 oz. granola
2 pints fresh blueberries, washed

  1. In large bowl, combine containers raw Old Fashioned Quaker Oats, with vanilla soymilk; set aside overnight.
  2. Sieve mixture and collect liquid, setting aside pulp mix.
  3. Place liquid into high-speed blender; add frozen banana and purée. Adjust consistency by adding more soymilk.
  4. Pour liquid-banana purée into bowl of oatmeal pulp and mix.
  5. Layer into parfait glasses: granola, blueberries and oatmeal mixture; repeat.