The Many Health Benefits of Mushrooms for School Meals
Mushrooms pack a powerful punch in a small package (probably like most of your students!). Not only do they lend deep flavors and interesting texture to dishes, they are exceptionally nutrient dense, meaning high in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. With school menus having tight guidelines for fat, calories, and sodium, having a no-fail option that is low in all three is ideal for school food professionals. Mushrooms are a seamless, nutritious fit for school menus – let’s dig into the reasons why!
The Powerhouse Nutrients
Unfortunately, reports continue to reveal the low vitamin D intake among Americans, while research continues to show the benefits and need of vitamin D as a staple in the diet for children and adults.1 Vitamin D consumption helps the body better absorb calcium which in turn, builds and maintains strong bones.2 This process is vital in the growth and development of school-aged children and supporting health into adulthood.
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but lucky for you, mushrooms are unique for being the only food in the produce aisle with the ability to increase its vitamin D levels through exposure to UV-light or sunlight. Mushroom farmers figured out that exposing their mushroom crop to UV-light during the growing process increases the vitamin D content for the consumer.3 Bring the sunshine vitamin into your cafeteria with mushrooms! Just look for mushrooms that have been treated with UV-light.
Selenium doesn’t often get a lot of the spotlight, but it is still an essential mineral to include in a healthy diet – and a school menu! Selenium prevents cell damage by creating proteins called antioxidant enzymes.4 Just 5 medium mushrooms supply a good source of selenium. That can be taken care of in a single lunch!
Bananas aren’t the only option to fill potassium needs around here. Five medium white mushrooms contain 6% of the recommended DV for adults.5 Potassium supports healthy blood pressure and nerve and muscle function.6 Promoting this benefit can be especially attractive to student athletes looking to increase their electrolyte intake.
A full school day of learning requires a lot of energy from students! B vitamins break down protein, fats, and carbohydrates to provide that necessary energy to fuel our bodies.7 B vitamins Pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and niacin are all found in mushrooms and share responsibility for metabolism, growth and development, healthy skin, and digestion.8,9 That is a lot of power in a single serving of mushrooms!
How This Benefits Your Menu
Your main goal is to feed students school meals that are nutritious, filling, and desirable. But with nutrition guidelines to stick to, limited storage space and kitchen equipment, and ever-evolving student tastes and preferences, this can feel like an uphill battle! Luckily, with the help of nutrient-dense, versatile mushrooms, this goal becomes a lot more attainable.
Thanks to the meaty texture and flavor of mushrooms, combining them with meat can reduce the sodium of the meal by 25% while still maintaining the flavor.10 Adding them to main or side dishes can contribute delicious flavor, valuable vitamins and minerals, and help you save on fat and calories, giving you more flexibility in planning your menus overall.
Mushrooms are also widely available – often locally – and grown year-round. When handled and stored properly, mushrooms can be a frequent feature across all aspects of your breakfast and lunch menus (check out our recipes for inspiration, and our culinary course to learn more about planning menus to maximize mushroom freshness and delivery schedules).
Finally, mushrooms are on-trend! Students are now being exposed to more tastes and cuisines than ever before. Mushrooms provide the deep, distinctive umami flavor that students are experiencing at restaurants. Keep up with the trends by using more mushrooms!
Resources to Help You Menu Mushrooms
To get the most out of menuing mushrooms, be sure to check out the variety of resources on our website. For marketing purposes, parents love to know what healthy ingredients are being used in their student’s school meals. Providing information for them through our Classroom Education and Farm to School programs will help bring the message home. You can also find additional nutrition-focused handouts for adults from the Mushroom Council here. For a seamless message from the cafeteria to parents, pass along recipes that are designed for a home kitchen.
If you are new to using mushrooms on your menus or you are just looking for fresh ideas, Mushrooms in Schools has a large collection of recipes and culinary training to get you inspired to serve mushrooms right away, and to get the word out about the health benefits of mushrooms in schools!
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. 8th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2016.
- Vitamin D. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. Reviewed August 7, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020. 4. Cardwell, G.; Bornman, J.F.; James, A.P.; Black, L.J. A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1498. 5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. Fdc.nal.usda.gov.
- McHugh T. UV processing of mushrooms increases vitamin D content. Food Technology 3/15. Page 75, 3rd column, 2nd paragraph.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Selenium in Diet. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002414.htm
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. fdc.nal.usda.gov.
- Duyff, R. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Fifth Addition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. April 2017
- What Are B-Vitamins and Folate? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Reviewed July 9, 2019. Accessed February 3, 2020.
- Riboflavin. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. Reviewed July 9, 2019. Accessed February 3, 2020.
- Niacin. Medline Plus. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine. Reviewed July 9, 2019. Accessed February 3, 2020.
- Miller, A.M., Mills, K., Wong, T., Drescher, G., et al. Flavor-Enhancing Properties of Mushrooms in Meat-Based Dishes in Which Sodium Has Been Reduced and Meat Has Been Partially Substituted with Mushrooms. Journal of Food Science (2014). Attached, substantiation underlined.