Ensuring that kids in school cafeterias eat healthful, tasty food can be challenging. “We live in a day and age where everything is flavor-blasted,” explains Chris Burkhardt, executive director of school nutrition for Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio. “It’s important to provide nutritional meals to students so they stay healthy throughout the school day, as well as meals that are flavorful.”
USDA guidelines aimed to lower the amount of sodium kids eat tests school nutritionists to serve delicious, lower-sodium meals. The tricky part when sodium is reduced in food is that flavor can be muted. Fortunately, food manufacturers are listening.
Reducing sodium while keeping flavor
Many K-12 students start their day by purchasing breakfast at school, and later purchase lunch at school, too. School nutritionists want to offer healthful and flavorful foods that are high in nutrition that students find appealing, craveable and filling, which means increasing whole grains, lowering fat and reducing sodium.
One food served at all 93 Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools is a reduced-sodium cheesy potato casserole, which delivers bold, rich and intense tastes. As a bonus, the dish is very versatile. For instance, cooks pair the casserole with sausage and French toast sticks for breakfast, and with a chicken drumstick and vegetables for lunch. “This casserole is a turnkey side dish that can be served for any mealtime,” Burkhardt says. “And, the best part is students love to eat it.” He also notes that students recognize the casserole as a comfort food, even though it’s a healthier version of the classic.
Offering comfort foods like these and other options, like mashed sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes with cauliflower—in lower-sodium preparations—is an easy and delicious way to ensure students will not only eat these healthier options, but enjoy them, too. Kids love these options, and now, schools have expanded options for what to serve.
Other menu ideas to reduce sodium while serving healthful and tasty food include:
- Season recipes with fresh herbs, like oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and sage.
- Cook with different vinegars, such as balsamic, herbed, red wine or rice.
- Add fresh onions, shallots, garlic and ginger to salads.
- Rinse canned beans under running water to remove salt.
- Add different varieties of finely diced peppers to recipes.
- Season food with a pre-blended salt-free dry spice mixture.
- Add citrus juices and zest to salad dressings.
This post is sponsored by Basic American Foods