Beans liven up K-12 menus

From Bush Brothers.

The quest to deliver highly nutritious lunches that please finicky students is leading some school foodservice directors on the path of tasty bean dishes. They’re finding success with everything from traditional baked beans and chili to colorful Cowboy Caviar to chain restaurant favorites like Cajun red beans and rice and Mexican black beans.

At Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, Va., several different types of beans are go-to ingredients in the cafeterias.

“We have all kinds of beans, from the kidney beans in red beans and rice to white beans in white chicken chili to black beans in taco soup,” says Serena Suthers, director of nutrition services of the district, which has 89 schools serving 53,500 lunches per day.

Students averse to meat enjoy beans as a protein option on build-your-own taco and nacho bars in the schools. They also choose red beans and rice, an offering reminiscent the popular specialty of the Popeyes quickservice restaurant chain. With an optional serving of chicken wings, it also pleases meat eaters. Instead of serving six chicken wings to an order the way a commercial eatery might, the school cafeteria serves three wings with the beans, keeping fat content and plate cost manageable while providing plenty of protein.

The most popular bean dish among students of Wayzata Public Schools in Minnesota is probably traditional baked beans, reports Mary Anderson, supervisor of Culinary Express, the district’s food service program. Nevertheless, black beans similar to those served in fast-casual Mexican restaurants are gaining a following in the district’s secondary schools, she says.

“If students see it at Chipotle or Qdoba, it suddenly becomes something they want to eat at school,” says Anderson, who oversees 11 sites serving 6,500 to 7,000 meals per day.

Kids are also trying Cowboy Caviar, a colorful salad of black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and great northern beans tossed with diced vegetables.

“You could serve it with chicken or fish or make it into a Southwestern salad by adding some pepper jack cheese,” Anderson notes.

At Hickman Mills C-1 Schools in Kansas City, Mo., a daily vegetarian bean and rice dish meets the needs of a large population of students who are vegetarian because of religious reasons as well as those who just like the flavor, reports Leah Schmidt, director of nutrition services. The district has 13 schools serving about 5,000 lunches per day.

The dish typically consists of black, pinto or great northern beans prepared served with lime-cilantro brown rice. In one of several recipes, the beans are cooked with garlic, onion, Mexican-style tomatoes and cumin. Another recipe uses hot pepper sauce for Cajun-style zest. “Our kids like it spicy,” says Schmidt.

“This is something that our vegetarian students can eat on a daily basis,” adds Schmidt. “It is becoming more popular with our adult eaters, too.”

Schmidt also has an unusual vegetarian recipe called April Fool Chili that includes canned pumpkin along with kidney beans, tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.

“We haven’t used it yet, but we have to increase our servings of orange vegetables and this is a good way,” says Schmidt.

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