School Chefs, Land O

There is a secret to creating delicious, nutritious kid-friendly recipes

Land O'Lakes experts, industry partners and foodservice professionals taste, test and develop new recipes

Collaboration is lesson No. 1 when it comes to K-12 nutrition services professionals. Why? As one district faces a challenge of making enough food to serve 1,000 kids in the space of one hour, another might need to find ways to create healthy meals and source the appropriate nutritional information. Those professionals often share best practices, ideas and recipes, because all must stay within the budget constraints and guidelines provided to them.

Objective: Delicious and nutritious

The purpose of the recipe development collaboration was to work together in a collaborative forum to create new and delicious kid-appealing recipes that:

  • Met K-12 school nutrition requirements and the practical needs of school foodservice operations nationwide

  • Use K-12 chef expertise to provide quick scratch recipes acceptable to students

  • Use school products manufactured by Land O’Lakes and/or General Mills

The results? The team created 10 kid-friendly recipes for use in school kitchens including Chicken Shawarma, Cheesy Apple Tarte, Swedish Meatballs, Fish Tacos, Broccoli Salad, Southwest Cheddar Chicken, Queso Meatball Nachos and Chicken Curry Sauté.
“The recipes were created for schools that don’t have a chef on staff, and they’re also great inspiration-starters for those schools with chefs,” says Christa Spaeth, MS, RDN, SNS, Land O’Lakes.

Individual inspiration

Each chef took a different approach to designing the recipes.
“I’m always trying to figure out things kids will eat,” says St. Paul Public Schools Chef Ricardo Abbott, explaining why he chose to create fun and flavor-filled recipes around fish and broccoli.
By serving students fish tacos with a slightly spicy créma sauce inspired by the flavors of California and Mexico, they just might eat something new, says Chef Ricardo. Same with serving a raw broccoli salad with sweet yogurt dressing, cranberries and sunflower seeds.
Spencer Fischer’s Swedish Meatballs recipe started with a call to his mom to ask for an old family favorite. That gave him the basis for a recipe that could be tweaked to meet Federal school nutrition guidelines, as well as pass muster with students.
“Kids want fun foods, good flavors and menu items they experience out in the world,” says Spencer, who works in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district. “We’re trying to punch up flavors but without using old standbys like sodium.”
Nancy Close from NutriStudents K-12 enjoyed the challenge of increasing the amount of dairy in a dish by incorporating dairy’s lushness, making it an essential ingredient, rather than an afterthought.
For the recipe collaboration, Nancy worked to keep the dishes high-quality as well as student- and budget-friendly.
“We wanted to make food that’s filling without breaking the bank,” she says, noting that options such as the Southwest Cheddar Chicken can be adjusted several ways to accommodate age groups, budgets and other considerations.

Taste, test and share

“We hosted the recipe development collaboration in our large, modern Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen,” says Cheryl Isberner, senior marketing manager. “There, the chefs and team had plenty of space to whisk, stir, fold, blend, bake and taste. We love showing off—and sharing—the space.”
It was truly a collaborative event with everyone tasting, testing and offering suggestions: “add a little nutmeg … try white pepper to add some zing … add a slice of cheese!”
We even enlisted two Land O’Lakes member-farmers, Barb Liebenstein and Connie Meyer, as taste-testers.
The benefits of the recipe development collaboration went beyond creating new foods.
“It re-energized my passion for creating new menu items,” says Spencer.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to return to that kitchen, that sharing and that collaborative forum,” says Nancy.