By: Chef Monty Staggs, CEO, SFE
There is no question, kids are both the toughest and best critics. We at SFE (Southwest Foodservice Excellence) find this especially true when it comes to school food. We are a culinary-based management company that feeds over a million K-12 students across the country. We are especially committed to finding innovative ways to offer alternative proteins to students.
Alternative proteins consist of foods that do not come from animals. Many recipes with alternative proteins are bean, vegetable or seed based. Nutritional yeast is also often used as an additive to create alternative proteins. We at SFE, not only believe that alternative proteins are good for kids’ overall health, but also better for the environment. We also pay close attention to procurement processes in all of our school districts, and its impact on carbon emissions.
SFE currently has 21-25% of our menu items as plant based and are aiming to have 31%-35% of our offerings to be plant-based by the end of 2024. In fact, we were recently recognized by the Humane Society with an “A” rating for its dedication to protein sustainability.
This year, we launched our Local Chef Series, where we collaborated with talented celebrity chefs to serve up kid friendly alternative protein-based recipes. We continue to innovate with restaurant inspired cuisines for students by increasing vegetarian, vegan and other plant-based choices. In fact, this school year, we just introduced a plant-based twist on the classic macaroni and cheese developed by acclaimed, vegan Chef Sasha Raj.
Raj’s vegan mac and cheese recipe is inspired by her popular, beloved “mac and trees” recipe. This recipe consists of fresh, nutrient rich vegetables to create an alternative protein to cheese. While cheese is often considered a good source of protein, it can be transformed using alternative ingredients. Raj is a master at creating comfort meals, making them entirely plant based. She makes her “cheese” from a puree featuring butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, cashews, nutritional yeast and an assortment of flavorful spices.
Another popular dish is a vegetarian twist on Mexican tostadas created by celebrity Chef Cory Oppold of “Chopped” fame. Oppold’s vegetarian tostada is layered with black bean hummus as well as corn salsa and topped off with an avocado puree.
Comprised of the freshest of ingredients and maximum nutrition value, this vegetarian menu introduction has many of our students, not just enjoying it at school, but it is easy enough for them to make at home. We are currently working with multiple celebrity chefs to develop and research new potential menu items.
At SFE we foster good habits and give kids as well as their families lessons and recipes they can take home. Our Roving Chef interactive cooking experiences allows kids to cook alongside a real chef. WE have Farmer’s markets where kids are introduced to new fruits and vegetables through display, education and sampling.
Through regular taste testing panels our students get to share their feedback on alternative protein dishes and shape their school menus. We’re developing recipes in the kitchen that students’ tastebuds will love but also nourish the health of their mind and body so they can succeed in the classrooms. SFE is committed to cultivate both better food choices such as alternative proteins as well as continue to provide nutritional education for our students and families.