Each month we feature ideas and tips for registered schools. These tips include best practices and innovative ideas for the development of your Harvest of the Month program.
MAY PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
May’s featured veggie is Spinach and this fantastic food is a powerhouse of
nutrition! There are several ways to share and promote spinach during tastings and in the cafeteria.
Leaf It to Spinach!
Create Leafy People Posters
Create promotional posters for the cafeteria and halls using a spinach leaf design as the torso for whimsical Leaf People. Advertise your special menu days and share fun facts about spinach in a playful and colorful way!
Grow Sponge Sprouts!
Display spinach sprouts grown on everyday sponges on the lunch lines and on tasting tables. You can even cut the sponges into a spinach leaf design before sprouting your spinach seeds! Sponge Sprouts can be utilized as a great classroom activity. Step by step directions can be found here.
FYI: Sponges cut into shapes and dipped in poster paint make a great stamp for posters and fun fact cards!
Spinach Has Super Powers!
Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrition. Create stick-figure superhero characters based on the superpowers of spinach and display them on your line and in the cafeteria. You can list each “green superpower” on a separate poster for your cafeteria walls or share these superpowers on individual sneeze-guard cards.
You can find spinach superpowers here.
Need help with veggie promotion and education? University of Illinois Extension educators have resources they can share to build interest and promote veggie education. Contact your UI EXT educator here for ideas.
Recipe of the Month: Spinach and Chicken Quesadillas
Cooking and Prep Level: Complex.
USDA Meal Components: 2 oz Meat/Meat Alternative, 2 oz Equivalent Whole Grains, ½ c Dark Green Vegetable, ¼ c Red/Orange Vegetable.
This recipe combines Mexican seasonings with USDA chicken and salsa to create a cheesy, yummy entree that’s sure to please your student customers!
Don’t forget to advertise your entree!
What has cheesy, smokey chicken combined with tender, local spinach leaves and a spicy kick? Harvest of the Month Super Spinach & Chicken Quesadillas!
More SPINACH recipes for May:
For School Families
You can check out all our Spinach recipes here!
Spinach & Balsamic Strawberry Salad
May Winning Spinach Fun Fact: A Veggie with a Long History.
Spinach is an annual edible flowering plant whose leaves we use for nourishment since the ancient times. It can grow up to 30 cm in height and its leaves can have a width of up to 15 cm and length of 30 cm. Its seed comes from very small fruits (10 mm in radius) which in turn come from equally small flowers (5 mm).
Spinach’s place of origin is ancient Persia or today’s Iran and surrounding countries. From there it crossed into India, but it is not known who brought it there. Ancient Chinese got it from India and gave it a name “Persian vegetable”. There we find the first written mentioning of the spinach which says that it came to China via Nepal somewhere around the year 647. Saracens (which was how Europeans called Muslims during the later medieval era) brought spinach to Sicily in the year 827.
The first texts to mention spinach in the Mediterranean region were written in the
10th century, and there were three of them. One was a medical text written by Rhazes in the West while the other two were agricultural texts by Ibn Waḥshīyah and Qusṭus al-Rumī. Ibn Ḥajjāj also wrote about spinach in the 11th century.
During the times when the Arabs held the Mediterranean, spinach was very popular and over time spinach came to Spain. The great Arab agronomist Ibn al-ʻawwam, called it “the chieftain of leafy greens” in his texts, which shows the high regard in which he held this plant. Germany knew about the prickly-seeded variant of spinach by the 13th century. Smooth-seeded spinach appeared in the 16th century and was described for the first time in 1552. Spinach came to England and France in the 14th century from Spain. It became very popular there because it grew in spring when there were no other vegetables capable of growing in cold weather during that period of history. Spinach became a food of choice during Lent, as well.
The English cookbook, The Forme of Cury, was the first book to mention spinach. This book, written by the Master Cooks of King Richard lll, is the oldest, surviving English cookbook.
When Catherine de’ Medici became queen of France in 1533, spinach again gained in popularity. She liked it so much that she ordered it prepared for every meal. Catherine de’ Medici was born in Florence and because of that, even today, cuisines made with spinach are known as “Florentine.”
During the First World War, French soldiers suffering from hemorrhages were given wine mixed with juices from spinach. During those times, spinach was cultivated in more useful variants.
Adapted from: Vegetablefacts.net
Here are more Spinach fun facts from our website. These can be utilized in fun meal line signage to draw attention to your Harvest of the Month!
Spinach Fun Facts:
Spinach is a cool season crop and belongs to the goosefoot family along with Swiss chard and beets. Spinach is a native plant of Persia (modern day Iran). It was introduced to China in the 7th century. It was most probably brought to Europe in about the 12th century and to the US in 1806. Reflecting its origin, spinach is still widely known in China as “the Persian Green”. There are many varieties of spinach, though they mostly fall into three distinct groups: Savoy (Dark green, crinkly and curly leaves. Commonly found in supermarkets.), Flat/smooth leaf spinach (Most commonly used for canned and processed spinach products, though “baby spinach” also fits in this group. Easier to wash and clean than Savoy.), and Semi-savoy (Hybrid variety with slightly crinkled leaves. It has the same texture as savoy, but it is not as difficult to clean.)
In the 1930’s U.S. spinach growers credited Popeye, a cartoon character, with a 33% increase in domestic spinach consumption – a welcome boost to an industry during the depression era. The spinach growing town of Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue of the cartoon character, Popeye, in 1937.
Spinach Nutrition Facts:
These nutrition facts can be added to middle/high school meal lines and cafeteria signage to educate, as well as, draw attention to your Harvest of the Month! Sharing your Harvest of the Month activities with other school staff can lead to multiple exposures for your featured fruit or veggie. The more exposure kids have to a new fruit or veg, the more likely they are to accept it! Carrots may not be an issue with kids, but applying this technique to other, less popular veggies like squash or spinach can be the difference between acceptance and total disinterest.
APRIL PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
Lettuce is a crop that is grown across the U.S. This vegetable is a spring and fall crop requiring cool temps and bright light from direct sunshine or indoor grow lights. Lettuce is the “race car” of veggies with a short growing period of 30-45 days!
The Green Wall Project
|Soda bottle herb garden|
Rain gutter lettuce
Recipe of the Month: BBQ Ranch Chicken Chopped Salad
Cooking and Prep Level: Intermediate.
This recipe showcases scratch made, shelf-stable spice blends.
What’s the easiest way to get kids in line at lunchtime? Offer a salad with both Ranch and BBQ flavors! This recipe utilizes scratch made spice blends, cutting out the heavy sodium levels and chemicals in pre-made blends. USDA chopped chicken becomes a star ingredient when it’s paired with BBQ and Ranch seasonings! This recipe works well as a self-serve entree in an individual clam-shell, or as an easy bulk service entree served from hotel pans. With a sure to please taste, using kid-friendly ingredients and flavors, what’s not to love?
More LETTUCE recipes for April:
(use up that USDA tuna!)
Try Chicken Caesar Salad on the school lunch tray and send the Quick & Easy Lettuce Wraps recipe to your school families at home to create a great promotion! By promoting your Harvest of the Month program on the meal line, and at home, you can create multiple food exposures and drive up participation.
We have two family recipes and five food service recipes for April. You can check them out here!
Kewl (cool!) Tuna Salad Flatbread
April Winning Lettuce Fun Fact: A History of Salad!
In the United States, head lettuce was for many years commonly cut and served as a wedge, covered simply with mayonnaise or another dressing, and eaten with a knife and fork. Wedge Salads were popular in fine dining and Mom & Pop restaurants, alike. This simple Wedge Salad was served less frequently as other specialty salads hit the dining scene. In 2015 popular restaurant chains began re-introducing the Wedge with new, imaginative ingredients and bold dressings. Today, the Wedge is slowly making a comeback!
The always popular Caesar Salad is made only with leaves of romaine lettuce tossed with a special dressing, including a raw egg and small pieces of anchovy. Legend has it that Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini invented the salad in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. According to The Telegraph, Cardini owned a restaurant in the tourist destination to “attract Americans frustrated by Prohibition.” The exact story is disputed, but the general consensus is that over Fourth of July weekend, Cardini threw together a bunch of ingredients he had on hand and served his concoction to his friends. Needless to say, the improvised dish caught on. (Source: The Origins of Caesar Salad, from huffingtonpost.com)
In parts of the American South the Wilted Lettuce Salad, or killed “kilt” salad is a family favorite made by pouring a warm dressing made with bacon fat and vinegar over lettuce leaves to produce a wilted effect. Much like German Potato Salad, this lettuce salad has a sweet/sour flavor profile due to the perfect balance of vinegar and sugar in the dressing. (Source: TheSpruceWiltted”
A relative newcomer to the salad scene is mesclun, a mixture of baby leaves consisting of several lettuce types and other leafy vegetables, some of which are fairly exotic. These may include arugula or rocket, actually a partially domesticated weed; a fine-leaved endive called frisée; mizuna, a small, dark green round leaf from Japan; spinach, beet tops, orchard; red chicory (radicchio); and romaine, butterhead, and red and green leaf lettuces. These leaves are cut in the field by hand or mowed when they are no more than ten centimeters long.
Here are more Lettuce fun facts from our website. These can be utilized as fun meal line signage to draw attention to your Harvest of the Month!
It’s All About Romaine:
Lettuce Nutrition Facts:
These nutrition facts can be added to middle/high school meal lines and cafeteria signage to educate, as well as, draw attention to your Harvest of the Month! Sharing your Harvest of the Month activities with other school staff can lead to multiple exposures for your featured fruit or veggie. The more exposure kids have to a new fruit or veg, the more likely they are to accept it! Carrots may not be an issue with kids, but applying this technique to other, less popular veggies like beets or dark leafy greens can be the difference between acceptance and total disinterest.
MARCH PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
Johnny Appleseed, A hero of American folklore!
A hero of American folklore, Johnny Appleseed was said to be a barefoot wanderer with a tin pot hat, and a sack of apples, so he might leave the start of trees everywhere he went. But unlike his tall tale colleagues Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Appleseed’s story was based on a real man. His name was John Chapman, and his real life was far richer and more interesting than his legend.
You can still visit one of his trees in Nova, Ohio. This site is home to a 176-year-old tree, the last known to be planted by Johnny Appleseed himself. It grows tart green apples, which are now used for applesauce and baking in addition to cider making. While Chapman might be glad to see his seeds still bearing fruit, he’d likely be sad to hear this tree is a noted bud source for grafting new apple trees. You can read more about John Chapman at: MentalFloss.com
March’s featured fruit is APPLES! Regional/local apples are a winter storage crop and are grown in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, and in Missouri, (for our western and southern Illinois schools!). There are two companies selling sliced regional apples (when available) to schools: Richland Hills Farms in Wisconsin and Peterson Farms in Michigan. Check with your produce distributor to order. If you cannot get these pre-cut products try contacting the companies directly to locate a distributor near you.
We have a new recipe!! Apple Crunch Salad
Several studies have looked at the effect of apples on risk factors for heart disease. One of the studies, done in hamsters, showed that apples can reduce total cholesterol levels and lead to drastic reductions (48%) in plaque buildup inside the arteries. If these animal studies were to apply to humans, it would mean that apples could be highly useful in helping to prevent cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes).
Apples contain many vitamins and minerals, but not in high amounts. However, apples are usually a good source of vitamin C.
- Vitamin C: Also called ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a common antioxidant in fruits. It is an essential dietary nutrient that has many important functions in the body (12).
- Potassium: The main mineral in apples. High intake of potassium may have beneficial effects for heart health.
- The pectin in apples is a prebiotic, providing food for friendly gut bacteria.
- The phytochemicals in apples provide as much antioxidant health-protected capacity as a mega-dose of vitamin C.
Nutrition Summary: One medium apple, about the size of a baseball, delivers all this:
- One-fifth of the dietary fiber you should be eating each day for cardiovascular and digestive health. That’s more than a bowl of bran cereal – and better tasting, too.
- None of the bad stuff- no fat, no saturated fat, no trans fat, no sodium and no cholesterol. Apples are guilt-free!
- Small amounts of vitamin C, the best-known antioxidant vitamin.
- Small amounts of potassium, an electrolyte that’s key for heart health.
- All that, and only 80-100 calories depending on the variety.
FEBRUARY PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
Valentine Celebrations with Beets!
If your students aren’t eating your Harvest of the Month monthly veggies providing a little fun on your lunch lines and education to improve your customer response could be the boost your program needs! Let’s face it, beets are not an easy sell to school-age children. Building a celebration sprinkled with fun education can influence your students and help to gain acceptance of these earthy beauties!
Here are a few examples of this technique.
- Beets used as a dye: Cutting beets into simple shapes and using them as a stamp is a great way to decorate serving line and cafeteria signage. Fun facts with red beet hearts stamped all around will draw student interest.
- Creating temporary tattoos for students in the shape of a red heart that are a safe and fun way to celebrate this dark, red vegetable during February.
- “Will You Beet My Valentine?” This is a fun and inexpensive way to promote your February Harvest of the Month. Create a theme lunch for younger students, such as k-5 with a sweetheart beet promotion!
- “With Every Beet of My Heart” is a wonderful way to tie beets to that popular February holiday! Create signage in the form of giant beet love valentines to paper your wall space using beet stamps cut into the shape of hearts.
- Veggie Love Is In the Air! Utilizing a Valentine theme can provide a fun learning opportunity in the lunchroom and in the classroom. Themed lunch celebrations also increase participation numbers, which is something we can all appreciate!
- “Pickle Me Pink!“ Sharing how foods were preserved in the past by serving pickled local beets with a side of education on the preserving process is a sure win. Adding these pickled beauties to a themed Valentine celebration may be the catalyst you need to encourage kids to taste something new. Our Quick Pickled Beets recipe can take the center stage on salad bars, a special mainline salad or in cold sandwich lunches throughout February!
Recipe of the Month: Winter Sunset Salad, A beautiful fresh salad with the colors of a winter sunset- a great way to get your students to try beets!
For a colorful and healthy salad try Winter Sunset Salad as your Harvest of the Month recipe! This recipe is rated BASIC for prep skills and utilizes canned mandarin oranges, as well as red or gold beets.
We have more cold and hot beet recipes including Quick Pickled Beets, Beets and Sweets, and Roasted Balsamic Beets for food service. If you want to avoid the red staining that can occur with Red Ace beets look for Chioggia (Candy Stripe) or golden beets. Chioggia beets, pictured below, have an amazing striped color and a very mild flavor. Golden beets are sweeter than the standard red beet and do not stain surfaces. Either beet makes a delicious and nutritious addition to a cold salad.
Happy Beet month!
JANUARY PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
Warm Up! with Harvest of the Month
The holidays are over and schools are settling back into their routine. It’s time to catch your student customers attention and bring them back into the lunch lines with Harvest of the Month!
January’s featured fruit is Apples. Regional/local apples are a winter storage crop and are grown in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, and in Missouri, (for our western and southern Illinois schools!). There are two companies selling sliced regional (when available) apples to schools: Richland Hills Farms in Wisconsin and Peterson Farms in Michigan. Check with your produce distributor to order. If you cannot get these products try contacting the companies directly to locate a distributor near you.
If you cannot locate regionally grown and stored apples a great substitute veggie would be any root crop, such as parsnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes or beets. Winter or hard squash, such as butternut, carnival and acorn varieties make a great substitute as well. If you are looking for a fruit substitute how about dried cranberries? Did you know Wisconsin has produced the largest crop of cranberries — currently, about 59% of the United States’ total production since 1995? 99% of Wisconsin cranberries are sold to Ocean Spray destined to become juice, dried cranberries, and fresh cranberries which are available through the holidays. If you need fun facts, nutrition facts or recipes for a vegetable or fruit that is not listed on the website please contact us!
Recipe of the Month: Cranberry Apple Coleslaw, hitting the trifecta of monthly featured foods!
For a colorful and healthy treat try Cranberry Apple Coleslaw as your Harvest of the Month recipe. This recipe is rated Basic for prep skills and has a sweet and tart crunch your students will love!
DECEMBER PROGRAM TIPS AND INFORMATION
Healthy Celebrations with Harvest of the Month
Change the Celebration Focus to Healthier Choices
On the Meal Lines
- New! (Your district name) (your district’s mascot) Ranch Carrot Fries are available today on the lunch line!
- Limited Time Only! (Your district name) (mascot) Fiesta Carrot Fries are available today on a lunch line near you! Add some spice to your holidays!