Beef Guide To Help School Food Service

Do you enjoy cooking dinner for your family each night? Imagine having to cook lunch for hundreds of kids with different preferences every single day. The Wisconsin Beef Council has stepped in to make the school nutrition staff’s job easier with their Beef Resource Guide.

The idea came out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Beef Council got calls from school food service directors having challenges sourcing their USDA commodity beef products. This prompted their interest in buying beef directly from farmers for their menu needs. But they lacked guidance on how to proceed. Through those conversations, the Beef Council team identified existing resources and contacts that could direct the discussion. They also found what information and tools were missing.

Louisa Peterson, owner of Creamery Creek Farms near Bangor, already had an established relationship with her local school district.

“I found that when I showed up to a school food director with my product and my story, it was a win,” she said. “It hasn’t been without challenges, but I get a lot of personal satisfaction from feeding our local school kids.”

The goal of the guide is to help school food service staff utilize beef more often and in diverse ways. This guide encompasses beef’s nutritional benefits, ways to utilize various cuts, and advice for talking with farmers and processors to source local beef. It also includes food safety tips and has a variety of pre-credited recipes.

The Beef Council identified several challenges faced by school food service professionals. These include the variability in school cafeteria equipment, limited staffing, and minimal experience working with raw beef products in the school lunch program.

Unlike the pre-cooked beef crumbles or hamburger patties that schools are familiar with, the use of frozen ground beef and other cuts presented a learning curve.

In addition to these operational challenges, schools must adhere to nutritional guidelines. These guidelines must specify minimum and maximum ounces of meat or meat alternatives served within a week. It’s referred to as “crediting.” These requirements vary based on grade level.

Susan Bostian Young, a nutrition program consultant from the Department of Public Instruction, emphasized, “This Beef Resource Guide assists schools in using fresh, whole cuts of beef in school meals with helpful food safety information. Best of all, it shows how different beef cuts and dishes contribute to the overall meal pattern.”

This presents a considerable task for meal planning. The commodity beef products typically used in schools have “crediting” information on the label, while locally purchased beef may not. Procurement guidelines, determined by the transaction’s dollar value, are also required for local purchases. Like many consumers, there was also a general unfamiliarity with beef primals and cuts that would fit best within menus and budgets. Lastly, there was a demand for large-quantity recipes with nutritional crediting information.

Michelle Denk, the Food Service Director for the Mount Horeb School District, praised the guide saying, “The recipes have the crediting information provided and include recommendations for substituting different cuts of meat. I appreciate the nutritional information, recipes, and even questions to ask your farmer when you decide to purchase from them. I found the guide extremely helpful, and the recipes are great!”

In the coming fiscal year, the Wisconsin Beef Council plans to continue distributing this guide and expand it by adding more recipes as well as visual training tools for staff. The guide is for national and local use. Find the Wisconsin-specific version with local resources: https://www.beeftips.com/nutrition/beef-resource-guide.

Find the more generic, national version: https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/nutrition/beef-for-tweens-and-teens.

“With the new resource guide, beef can be used for any student’s lunch and your family’s dinner,” Grace Link with the Wisconsin Beef Council said. “For more information, contact us at wbc@beeftips.com.”