Chef and Registered Dietitian, Institute of Child Nutrition
What does the Culinary Institute of Child Nutrition do?
Our goal is to help Child Nutrition professionals implement best practices to improve all culinary aspects of their operation. We provide tips and strategies for preparing healthy culinary-inspired school meals.
One of our new initiatives is called the Culinary Institute of Child Nutrition. It was launched with the support of the USDA to assist in meeting the unique training, technical assistance, and professional development needs of school nutrition professionals. One of the areas we focus on is increasing the use of fruits and vegetables on menus, from breakfast to snacks.
How should schools, and all foodservice operations, think about increasing the use of fruits and vegetables on menus?
Produce—fresh, canned, frozen or dried—adds interesting color, texture and flavor to recipes. We eat with our eyes first, and fruits and vegetables give dishes the vibrancy that we are seeing more and more on restaurant menus and in media, especially with the interest in plant-based menus.
The popularity of bowls, pizza, and flatbreads gives us a lot of room to increase the appetite appeal on school menus with fruits and vegetables. We can give these dishes a flavor punch by using different cooking techniques and layering herbs, spices, and sauces.
How do you build flavors with canned Bartlett pears?
I selected the Pear and Bacon Flatbread from eatcannedpears.com to use as an example of how this popular fruit can add interest and elevate the flavor of a dish, and also how to easily create a plant-forward version.
The recipe starts with a whole grain flatbread that’s layered with salty-smoky turkey bacon, fresh spinach or arugula, rich shredded mozzarella, and sweet diced canned pears. This version is topped with red pepper flakes for a subtle flavor pop without a lot of spicy heat.
When building the flatbread, I like to sprinkle the cheese on top of the greens and bacon to help hold in the moisture of those ingredients. The pears are on top because they won’t dry out as quickly and can caramelize a bit when you bake it in a hot oven.
The beauty of canned pears is that they are so convenient to use and each piece is consistently ripe and flavorful. U.S. grown canned pears are the heirloom Bartlett variety, so they have that quintessential pear flavor.
For my plant-forward version, I roast winter squash with smoked paprika, garlic, and salt. The roasted squash is the first layer on top of the flatbread, then I add the cheese which will help hold the roasted squash in place, next the diced canned pears, and I sprinkle dried thyme over the top. I’m a chef, so to create a little flavor pop, I toss a small amount of balsamic vinegar with arugula to brighten the flavor, and add that after the flatbread is baked.
These flatbreads can be baked at 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.
Do you save the juice or lite syrup from a can of pears?
Yes, and one thing I do is add the pear liquid to a vinaigrette or reduce the syrup to add a touch of sweetness to other recipes like sauces, and baked goods. Why add sugar when you can add sweetness with the subtle flavor of pears to recipes? Recycle the can and you have zero waste!