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Mushroom industry helping to feed school kids in healthy, nutritious ways

Innovative school meal solutions — like mushroom meatballs — were “served up” on Wednesday, July 23 as the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry examined the challenge of feeding America’s school children.

A press release from the American Mushroom Institute in Washington, DC, dated July 24 stated that the hearing featured testimony from school foodservice directors from Mississippi, Michigan and Kentucky as Congress debates the current nutrition guidelines and begins preparation for the reauthorization of school nutrition programs in 2015.

In the release, Laura Phelps, president of the AMI, stated that Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA) arranged for his colleagues to sample the mushroom meatballs, a new product being introduced into school meals to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional guidelines.

IMG 9857A mushroom display at a school nutrition show.“Mushroom blendability — the simple process of adding fresh, chopped mushrooms to meat so that students’ favorite meals can be made healthier without losing taste or texture while extending volume — is a chef-inspired cooking technique in use by school districts across the country,” said Phelps. “Pennsylvania is the top-producing mushroom state in the country, and Senator Casey commended ‘the mushroom industry, foodservice directors and meat processors for working together to find solutions to producing healthier meals that meet the USDA guidelines and, most importantly, appeal to kids.’“

Phelps also said that Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted that samples of new menu items were a welcome addition to the hearing.

The release quoted Stabenow as saying, “We want to do this hearing every week because we’ve been given a lot of great food this morning, so we are going to make this a weekly effort. Senator Leahy brought us some pumpkin squares that we have from the school menu in Vermont and I’ve tasted one and it’s absolutely delicious. And from Bob Casey we have mushroom meatballs. These are also great — 50 percent mushrooms and 50 percent meat! I feel like I’m on the Food Channel right now. We didn’t eat like this when I was in school.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) cited the Cincinnati school district as an early adapter of the new nutrition guidelines. The district was one of the first to use mushroom blendability as a student-approved way to increase the healthfulness of the meat entree in school lunches.

“School foodservice directors can use the USDA commodity program to purchase beef and mushrooms, which are sent directly to meat processors to create great-tasting entrees with less fat, calories and sodium that are also cost effective,” said Phelps. “Reformulated recipes were developed by the mushroom industry to assist schools that prepare meals in their own kitchens.”