WALNUTS AND SNP’S EFFORT TO INCREASE PLANT BASED PROTEINS IN SCHOOL MEALS BY DEB GLASSER, M.S., R.D.
SNP develops recipes and new items throughout the school year. I’ve written about our process here. Often in R&D, we are flavor driven, exploring ways to menu trending cuisines or flavor profiles.
Sometimes we are ingredient driven. Such is the case with walnuts. SNP has partnered with California Walnuts to pilot a program in some of our schools featuring walnuts. Walnuts, a powerhouse of “good fats”, particularly omega-3 ALA (alpha linolenic acid), can be a substitute for animal proteins or used in conjunction with animal protein to make delicious, nutrient dense food. We are regularly challenging ourselves to use more plant based proteins and offer innovative vegetarian meals to our students.
After sampling a walnut chorizo taco at the National School Nutrition Conference and speaking with the California Walnut Board, Chef Jason Keegan worked on kid-friendly ways to incorporate walnuts into school meals. He created a breakfast burrito with walnut “chorizo”, eggs, potatoes and cheese rolled into a whole grain tortilla. The walnut “chorizo” was made from scratch by blending walnuts with garbanzo beans, oil, vinegar, peppers, and spices. SNP offered the breakfast burrito alongside cereal and most students were enthusiastic and chose the burrito, reporting back with smiles and requests for more! However, perfecting the chili was more challenging per Chef Jason: “Texture was a hurdle, the walnuts in the (first batch of) chili were crunchy and just not right. The next time around, I roasted off the walnuts in the oven to soften them up and lessen the crunch and that ultimately was the recipe we served to the students. The lunch for the day was chili with walnuts and sweet potato alongside a walnut maple corn bread to provide a grain for the day”.
In speaking with Chef Jason, I learned there were a few more obstacles. First, walnuts are expensive, about five times the cost of animal protein. To offset this cost, we’ve combined them with eggs and beans in our menu items. Second, there’s the consideration that walnuts can be a deterrent for some students and that menu’ing the items (naming them) poses its own set of problems. For example, we opted for “Chili with Walnuts” as opposed to “Walnut Chili”. This had the desired effect and we are optimistic based on initial participation.
Our founder and President, Emily Burson will be presenting a talk, Expanding Beyond Beans and Cheese discussing SNP’s interest in, and effort to use, alternative proteins in school meals at the California School Nutrition Association conference on November 8th.
Chef Jason recently attended Camp Walnut in Guerneville, CA, where he visited a walnut farm and witnessed a harvest. He took part in a Top Chef style competition where his California walnut hot chicken sandwich won the hearts of the other attendees.