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Beef up school lunch

Beef up school lunches with recipes like Spy Thai Beef, shown here. (Photo courtesy of the Beef Checkoff)

By Holly Swee

South Dakota Beef Industry Council

Summer break is over and school is in full swing with extracurricular activities before and after school. Good, nutritious meals are essential to fuel healthy growth and development in children of all ages.

Recently, the Beef Checkoff developed five new school foodservice recipes to ensure that school cafeterias are able to feature nutrient-rich, lean beef and include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy as part of a delicious school lunch. The neat thing about these five new recipes is that they are available in a recipe format for home use as well. Not only are they nutritionally balanced and meet the United States Department of Agriculture's school lunch guidelines, but they are quick, easy, economical and are sure to please your family during any weekday meal.

Studies show that students who have a healthful diet have higher test scores, which leads to academic achievement. Lean beef is a nutrient-rich food, meaning it's low in calories, yet high in nutrients. It's an important source of 10 essential nutrients including iron, zinc, B vitamins and protein. Research indicates that in healthy, school-aged children, an increase in zinc intake improves cognitive performance, visual memory, word recognition, reasoning, psychomotor function and attention skills.

Beef is also a good source of iron. Lack of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the country according to the Center for Disease Control. Research shows that iron deficiencies may affect learning abilities in school-aged children, especially their ability to understand math problems.

High-quality protein, like lean beef, also supports the growth, repair and maintenance of all body tissues, creates red blood cells, boosts the immune system and helps to preserve lean muscle mass.

As a parent, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to prepare tasty, nutritious, balanced meals during the hectic school year. It's my pleasure to share this Spy Thai Beef recipe, which is one of my children's favorite. It's super easy and quick, yet pairs well with whole grains and vegetables, which are also customizable within the recipe. Accompany this meal with your favorite fruit and low-fat or non-fat dairy for a family pleasing, balanced meal.

For these five newly developed beef school lunch recipes, visit and click K-12 Foodservice under the Resources tab. For these recipes in the family-friendly recipe version, visit or contact Holly Swee at (605) 224-4722 or

Spy Thai Beef


1 pound ground beef (93 percent lean or leaner)

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons reduced-fat creamy peanut butter or regular sunflower seed butter

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Baked wonton wrappers (optional) -- Hot cooked whole wheat spaghetti can be substituted for baked wonton wrappers

Toppings (optional):

Red bell pepper strips, shredded carrots, cucumber slices, sliced green onion, sliced fresh pea pods, sliced basil or cilantro leaves, shelled edamame, pickled ginger, lime wedges


1. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef; cook 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into 1/2-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally. Remove drippings.

2. Meanwhile, combine water, peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, garlic powder, ground ginger and red pepper.

3. Stir peanut butter mixture into beef. Continue to cook over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally.

4. Evenly divided beef mixture over six wonton triangles or a serving of whole wheat spaghetti, if desired. Garnish with toppings, as desired.

Makes 4 servings

Total recipe time: 30 to 35 minutes

*Recipe courtesy of the Beef Checkoff Program

-- Holly Swee is the director of nutrition and consumer information for the South Dakota Beef Industry Council.