Greeley, CO School Pilot Program

California Walnuts: Trendy, Plant-Based and Versatile in School Meals

Learn more about our school pilot program and how students and staff enjoy walnuts in schools.

Featuring Matthew Poling, Executive Chef, Greeley-Weld County School District 6 (Greeley, CO)

Incorporating more plant-based eating in schools is just one more way to ensure that the over 30 million students participating in the National School Lunch Program receive a healthy and nutritious meal each day.

Fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a variety of protein-rich foods like beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy (like edamame) are the mainstays of plant-based eating.

Compared to a typical American diet, a plant-based philosophy is higher in unsaturated fats and fiber, both of which support healthy dietary patterns. It can be more nutrient-dense, and contain more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Plant-based diets are versatile and also offer a great variety of color, favors and textures.

Matthew Poling, Executive Chef for Greeley-Weld County School District 6 knows it’s about incorporating more plant-based items in schools, His district in Greeley, CO is known for their innovation in school meals, and was one of the first to operate a large-scale scratch kitchen and farm-to-school programs.

Walnuts in schools

“With our scratch kitchen, we’re able to make lunch staples like red sauce, ranch dressing or sloppy joes more nutrient-dense and overall healthier for kids. For example, in our red sauce, which can be used on pizza or pasta, we pack an extra dose of vegetables within, without sacrificing the great taste” Poling said. “We also have one of the most diverse districts in the country, with a student body that represents more than 80 countries. We frequently test ethnic cuisines at our “Global Cafe’ like Indian and Mediterranean food, both of which are primarily plant-based recipes.”

The California Walnut Board partnered with two schools in Poling’s district — Brentwood Middle School and Jefferson High School — to test perceptions among students and staff/parents of plant-based foods and walnut applications in schools.

Walnuts were tested in both Breakfast in the Classroom in individually wrapped one ounce packets and as a plant protein salad option on lunchroom salad bar.

Walnuts in schools

According to Matthew, his district is always looking for more plant-based menu items. “Kids could benefit from plant-based protein like walnuts, to help sustain them throughout the day and aid in focus in the classroom. Kids these days eat way too many carbohydrates, and if we can incorporate a plant-based protein like walnuts into school breakfasts or lunches in an innovative way, more kids will be reaching for better options in schools.”

Walnuts in schools

Three-fourths of students surveyed responded that they are interested in eating a more plant-based diet. Staff, many of whom are parents, were also surveyed and almost all (95%) are interested in having more plant-based options for students.

Nearly 70% of students reported that if their school served walnut in the future, they would eat them again. The majority of staff/parents (77%) liked having walnuts as an option and 82% responded that they would like their school to continue offering walnuts to students. Applications of interest among students included yogurt, plain walnuts, snack/granola bars and muffins.

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