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Rachael Ray’s healthy school meals

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Rachael Ray and school nutrition

Do you cringe at the thought of your child eating day after day of cafeteria food? Rachael Ray feels your pain and has partnered up with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to create healthy school food recipes and make them available to every school in the United States for free. Here’s more on the initiative and a healthy cafeteria recipe.

Rachel Ray in school cafeteria

A healthy collaboration for school nutrition

In celebration of September's National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, television personality, author and founder of the Yum-o! organization, Rachael Ray and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (which is a non-profit founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation) have collaborated to create healthy school food recipes that will be available for free to every school in the country. The recipes were created specifically for easy preparation in a school setting, meet the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's school nutrition guidelines (which meet or exceed USDA guidelines) and were taste-tested and approved in real school kitchens with real kids.

"Getting students excited about the food they eat in school and giving them access to flavorful choices made with more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains is so important when it comes to teaching them about making healthy food choices," says Ray. "I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and provide schools nationwide with nutritious recipes that kids will enjoy eating."

Yum-O! for all

Ray first began to provide recipes to schools in a partnership with the New York City Department of Education in 2009. The success of that program led to Ray's desire to bring her healthy recipes to schools across the United States. The collaboration between Ray and her organization Yum-o! with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is a natural fit, as the Alliance's Healthy Schools Program is one of the largest school-based childhood obesity programs in the country, supporting more than 12,000 schools in their efforts to create healthier places for students to learn and staff to work.

"We are always looking for fun and innovative ways to introduce healthier options to students," says Sal Valenza, food service director at a West New York, New Jersey school who piloted the recipes with his students. "The recipes Rachael Ray, Yum-o! and the Alliance created not only got rave reviews from the students, but they are created in a way that is easy and affordable to make from a school food service perspective."

Foundation of a healthy school meal

Ray's healthy school recipes provide a strong nutritional foundation for students, many of whom eat at least one cafeteria meal each school day. The recipes are based on increased lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat and fat-free dairy in addition to reduced total fat, saturated fat and sodium levels.

Recipes available for school food service professionals include Southwestern Turkey Cobb Salad, Silly Chili con Fusilli, Orange You Glad it's Glazed Chicken and Noodles, Turkey Tacos and Mexi-Mac and Cheese.

More than just recipes

Parents and school staff can access Rachael Ray's Yum-o! school meal recipes by visiting the Alliance's website at www.healthiergeneration.org. Additionally, Yum-o! has created "at-home" versions of these recipes, which will be available on the www.yum-o.org website, so kids and their families can recreate the meals in their own kitchens.

Along with the recipes, parents and school staff will get shopping lists and nutritional information for each recipe, best practices for preparing, introducing and serving these recipes to students.

School nutrition education is key

In an effort to educate school food service professionals about the availability of these recipes and a multitude of other free tools and resources for healthier school meals, the Alliance is announcing a new collaboration with the School Nutrition Association (SNA). The Alliance and SNA will work throughout the coming year to inform, educate and activate school food service professionals across the country through promotional campaigns, webinars, speaking engagements and educational materials – all with a goal of increasing the availability of healthier options to students in every school in the country.

"School nutrition professionals are constantly working to offer healthier choices to students, but we will always welcome a helping hand!" says Helen Phillips, SNS, president of the School Nutrition Association and senior director of School Nutrition for the Norfolk Public Schools (VA). "The programs and materials created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, including these wonderful recipes from Rachael Ray, are great tools for SNA members working to improve school menus. We are excited to work with the Alliance on new national initiatives to support school food service professionals."

Mexi-Mac and Cheese

Here is an example of one of Ray's healthier school recipes. Take your mac and cheese south of the border! Students will love the flavors and kitchen staff will be surprised by the ease of preparation.

Serves 100

Ingredients:

  • 12 pounds whole grain rotini pasta
  • Water
  • 6 pounds reduced-fat American cheese
  • 5 pounds reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 gallon low-fat, low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 gallon 1% milk
  • 1 #10 can low-sodium salsa
  • 5 pounds corn (frozen) or 2 #10 cans corn, drained
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/8 cup nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

Topping:

  • 6 cups reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 bunches fresh cilantro, cleaned thoroughly

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta "al dente" (two minutes less than you would cook pasta for immediate serving) and cool following HAACP procedures one day prior to serving.
  2. On the stove in a medium sized sauce pot, make a roux* with the flour and oil. In a steam kettle on medium heat bring the milk to a simmer, add the roux and mix thoroughly.
  3. As the milk thickens, add the chicken stock. When this thickens to a medium consistency, add the cheese slowly mixing well to incorporate it into the milk.
  4. Add the salsa, corn, chili powder and nutmeg. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the pasta and mix well to coat in sauce. Season with black pepper to taste.
  5. Transfer to three 2-inch deep serving pans and top with 2 cups cheddar cheese each. Bake in oven at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes.
  6. Before serving, add cilantro to top of pan as garnish. Cover and hold according to HAACP Hot Food Holding Guidelines.

*To make a roux, cook equal parts flour and oil until they are blended to a paste-like consistency.

More on school lunches

What's wrong with school meals?
Home packed lunches banned at Chicago school
No peanut butter in your school? Understand the bans

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