The fast food industry has changed consumers’ focus on food. It’s more about convenience and speed rather than supplying the body with needed nutrients. Though some places are becoming more conscious, most fast food places limit the opportunity to consume fruits and vegetables, said Amy Harkey with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Child Nutrition Services. 

Harkey and one of her employees spent three days in San Antonio, Texas, at The Culinary Institute of America earlier this spring learning, discussing and sharing ideas with 12 other school food service leaders from across the country on how to create recipes for “minimally processed meals.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines are always changing to make sure children consume more fruits, vegetables and whole grains at school. Harkey has noticed that two of the largest obstacles for getting students to eat healthier are exposure and presentation.

Exposure

Kids are less likely to eat something if they don’t know what it is, Harkey said. Some CMS schools are implementing school gardens to expose students to different varieties of produce and how it’s created.

Students can take the food they grow home since it can’t be cooked in the cafeteria; however, school kitchens can offer the same type of vegetables as certain vegetables are being harvested to reinforce the connection for students, Harkey said.

Harkey suggested that parents also plant a garden with their children to expose them to nutritious produce. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant – even a tomato plant or herbs can peak their interest.

In addition to a garden, Harkey also suggests that parents get their kids in the kitchen. Have them help with cooking. Not only is it an opportunity to connect with kids, but the more they’re in there, the more they’ll understand food, she said.

Presentation

The presentation will also make healthier food items more appealing to kids’ taste buds, Harkey said. For schools, she’s in the process of developing a book for her staff on how to decorate schools’ food lines to make the day’s meal more enticing.

For home, Harkey suggests parents let their children be creative with their food. Let them play with their food – create a fruity peanut butterfly with carrots or celery sticks as the body, thinly sliced apples with peanut butter for the wings, decorated with grapes or dried fruit; or create a potato person by decorating half a baked potato using sliced cherry tomatoes, peas and cheese to make a funny face.

Here are some recipe suggestions offered Harkey:

Dressed Up Fruit & Yogurt
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Yield: 4 to 8 servings

Ingredients

• 1/3 cup of your favorite preserves

• 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter, sunflower seed butter or soy nut butter

• 1 cup low fat vanilla yogurt (Greek style)

• 8 sugar cones or four waffle bowls

• 4 cups fresh mixed fruits: chopped strawberries, bananas, pineapple, mandarin oranges, kiwi or blueberries.

• 1/2 cup of granola (optional)

Directions

1. Combine preserves, peanut butter and yogurt until blended.

2. For cone: Chop fruit small. Place one tablespoon of yogurt mixture into bottom of cone. Fill cone with fruit until heaping. Top fruit with dollop of yogurt mixture.

3. For waffle bowl: Place 1 cup fruit in bowl. Top with 1/4 of yogurt mixture.

4. Top with optional granola. Serve.

Strawberry Patch Nachos

Prep Time: 12 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

• 24 (about 4 oz.) light or baked tortilla chips

• 1 1/2 cups fresh fruit such as halved grapes, sliced bananas and berries

• 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, sunflower seed butter or soy nut butter

• 1/4 cup of your favorite preserves

• 1/4 cup maple syrup, honey or agave (optional)

• Ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Place half the tortilla chips on a serving platter. Cover with half the fresh fruit.

2. Place the peanut butter in a re-sealable food storage bag; microwave on high (100 percent power) 20 seconds. Knead until thinned. Cut a small corner from the re-sealable bag. Squeeze the bag to drizzle half the peanut butter over the chips. Spoon dabs of preserves over tortilla chips. Repeat process with remaining chips, fruit, peanut butter and preserves. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately.

Awesome Waffle Sandwich

Prep Time: 8 minutes

Cook Time: 14 minutes

Yield: 1-2 servings

Ingredients

• 2 frozen waffles  of your choice (whole grain and/or reduced fat would be the best, could use gluten free variety as well)

• 1 egg (beaten)

• 1 slice of low-fat cheese

Directions

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Generously coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Place waffles on baking sheet.

2. Spoon egg over waffles, spreading to fill cavities. Bake in 400°F oven until egg is set and waffles are crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.

3. Top one waffle with cheese. Cover with remaining waffle and press together. Let stand 1 minute to allow cheese to melt.

4. Leave whole or cut in half. Serve.

Chicken Fajita w/ Fiesta Rice

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15-25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

• 1lb of boneless, skinless chicken (breast or thighs) cut into strips

• 1 1/2  teaspoon of Mexican seasoning

• 4 ounces of fresh onion, sliced or julianne

• 4 ounces of fresh green pepper, sliced

• 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder, dry

• 1/8 teaspoon of salt

• 4 each 8-inch flour tortillas

• 2 cups of cooked Spanish rice (favorite brand)

Directions

1. Prepare Spanish rice according to directions.

2. Heat sauté pan on the stove to med-high. Using pan spray – sauté onions and peppers, add salt and garlic powder. Cook vegetables just until green peppers begin to soften but are still slightly crispy, about 4 min. Remove from pan and hold to the side.

3. Add chicken and Mexican seasoning. Sauté for 6-8 minutes or until chicken is an internal temperature of 165°F.

4. Warm tortillas in microwave for 10-15 seconds or in a low heat oven for 1-3 minutes.

5. Assemble fajita with chicken and vegetables; serve 1/2 cup of Spanish rice on the side. Serve.

6. Optional – shredded lettuce, diced tomato, avocado, low-fat shredded cheese, salsa or low-fat sour cream.