Get set for a Shroomapalooza at a school near you.
During the week of Jan. 27, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, will be mushroom central, with samples of mushroom and mushroom-blended dishes appearing in all dorms and food outlets.
“We’ll have nutrition information and mushroom giveaways, and we’re giving out shirts with a list of dishes you can find throughout the campus,” said Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator of the San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council, the event’s sponsor. “They’ll be going mushroom crazy.”
A similar mushroom-focused event is scheduled for the University of North Texas, Denton, in February, she said, and Harvard, Cornell and Stanford universities are all blending mushrooms with meat to lighten up menu items.
“Yale has made a commitment to reduce their meat consumption in foodservice by 50%,” she said. “College and university students all crave more options for plant-based food.”
The council also is celebrating its success getting mushrooms on the approved list of food items schools can purchase using their USDA entitlement dollars.
“This was a huge win because not every commodity group can go to the USDA and say we want to be added to your list,” Preis said.
She said schools and states can now order frozen mushrooms and divert them to processors that make their ground beef or poultry blends. Schools can also specify the percentage of mushrooms used, which could be as high as 40%.
Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales for Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom’s Mushrooms, said the problem with trying to get kids to eat more vegetables is you can’t just put carrots and broccoli on a plate and think they’re going to eat them.
“You have to make them into foods they already like, such as a burger or a spaghetti sauce that’s half mushrooms, half ground meat,” Street said.
“It still tastes good and looks familiar, and the portion size doesn’t shrink down to nothing because you’re still meeting the criteria by lowering the fat and sodium.”
To keep up the momentum, the mushroom council is advertising in school nutrition magazines and attending school nutrition conferences with blended mushroom meatballs and taco bars at the ready.
The council also has launched a website for institutional cooks called Mushrooms in School, and posters are going up in cafeterias across the country encouraging kids to top their burgers with mushrooms.
“It’s been fun working with students because they’re so excited about the concept,” Preis said.
“We love it because introducing mushrooms to young people will create a lifelong customer.”