Smoothies in the schools
A smoothie seems like a pretty simple thing to make, right?
Try whipping up nearly 200 of them in a school kitchen.
On a recent morning, I watched the foodservice staff at Cooper High School in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, do just that – mixing pureed fruit, fruit juice and yogurt, and then pouring them as fast as they could into cups – to serve to students and help get them off to a great start.
“We really had to figure out how to make so many of them ahead of time, but it’s been a lot of fun,” says Rachel Munn, assistant kitchen manager, Robbinsdale school district. “It’s great to hear the kids say, ‘I want one of the smoothies.’ It’s good to see the kids come in, and fill up first thing in the morning and energize their body for the day.”
So far, they’ve served up several varieties to their students, including strawberry/blueberry/banana and tropical fruit.
It’s not just Cooper catching the smoothie craze.
Across the U.S., many schools are big believers in the yogurt smoothie – bigger now, because they now can be served anytime during the school day, per USDA regulations classifying yogurt in smoothies as a “meat alternate.”
The yogurt, fruit and vegetables in smoothies now credits toward requirements for all reimbursable school meal programs, including breakfast and lunch, and as an after-school snack.
Cooper’s recent decision to offer smoothies first-thing in the morning is meant to help boost student nutrition at the school and increase breakfast participation.
“I would love every child in the school to have breakfast with us,” adds Julie Nordlocken, child nutrition manager for the Robbinsdale district. “If this brings them into the cafeteria that’s perfect, because breakfast is the most important meal.”
The path to making smoothies available in Cooper’s breakfast program was made smoother by two things: A new blender – thanks to a grant from Action for Healthy Kids – and, by the help of a corporate chef at General Mills with a passion for kids and nutrition.
Chef Monica Coulter works with K-12 foodservice professionals for General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. Through her work, she met Nordlocken and offered to come up with Cooper’s smoothie recipes. She also trained the kitchen staff on their new blender.
“When we first were talking about it, we said, ‘Okay, so where do we start? Okay, so what do we do?’ Monica jumped right on board and grabbed our hands and ran with us. It’s been fantastic,” says Munn.
“Without Monica’s help we would have been guessing and experimenting. She was a huge help,” Nordlocken says. “Monica was our go-to source.”
Chef Monica says it was all done to provide something the staff knew students would eat.
“Students are real receptive to the smoothies,” she says. “They see them away from school all the time. So, they might not always reach for a fruit at school but they will reach for a smoothie.”
“Smoothies are popular and trendy with students, so we wanted to offer them for breakfast,” says Michelle Sagedahl, RD, child nutrition program assistant for the Robbinsdale district. “It’s nice that smoothies can fit into the USDA regulations because they are something that students can enjoy, and they like and they want.”
And, schools don’t necessarily need a blender to make smoothies. It makes it easier, but they can easily be made in other ways.
Cooper High School plans to keep experimenting with its smoothies using fresh, frozen or canned fruit as well as fruit juices and both vanilla and strawberry yogurt (Yoplait’s Parfait Pro product for the foodservice channel).
For her part, Chef Monica has enjoyed watching smoothies become available – all across the U.S. – because she says it makes her work worthwhile.
And, she says she’s sort of adopted the Robbinsdale district and its program because it’s close to General Mills’ headquarters, which allows her a quick getaway from her desk and corporate kitchen to the real world of a working high school kitchen, where she can keep learning too.
“I’m into healthy eating myself, I have a smoothie for breakfast every morning,” she says. “And I get passionate about school kids – they need good healthy food. So it’s a higher calling, really.”
So, what’s next?
Chef Monica is developing a guide for making smoothies in the K-12 environment that will be available in April on GeneralMillsCF.com.
It will feature regulation-ready, kid-friendly smoothie recipes made with fruit and vegetables in fun concoctions such as Dreamy Peach or Berry Bunny along with several tips and tricks, including how to make smoothies even if schools don’t have a blender.
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