Harvest Protein Muffin Recipe for Teens in Michigan Attracts USDA’s Attention

Zoe Fauble of Whitehall Public Schools created a bean pie recipe that was so delicious that she started serving it in her school cafeteria. The 18-year-old had a winner until the government stopped him.

Now she’s dealing with the guerrillas in what has turned into a struggle over child nutrition, protein diets, and a staple of Michigan’s agricultural economy: white beans. Michigan is one of the largest producers of dry beans in the country but the USDA doesn’t consider them a protein—at least not in the Fauble recipe.

In 2017, according to the Census of Agriculture, Michigan harvested more than 500 million pounds of dry beans. They come from over a thousand farmers who own 225,334 acres for dry beans alone.

And dry beans go into more than just barbecues and soups. In this Fauble recipe, well-mixed cereal turns into a light and airy pancake that’s more nutritious than your usual breakfast food.

For example, a Fauble pie has twice as much vitamin D and 60% less fat than an Eggo pie. It also contains more protein – 36% versus 24% of the recommended daily intake, according to Nutrition Analysis.

Like many other high school kids preparing for their last year of high school, Fauble needed extracurricular credit. She decided to take a class at Muskegon Career Tech Center, where she prepared and baked food with coach chef Elisa Penczar.

There, she began preparing and experimenting with different recipes with her classmates that would work in schools. These recipes are essential to highlight local Michigan foods and were needed to meet nutritional requirements.

After researching some recipes, I stumbled behind a game changer, known as bean pie.

Vobel and her colleagues conducted multiple taste tests at other schools in the area.

“The kids loved it, and they didn’t know there were beans at first,” Vobel said.

After winning elementary school kids’ stomachs, Fauble and her colleagues knew the recipe was a keeper.

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The bean muffin is made with whole wheat flour, no added sugar, Michigan-grown apples, mashed sweet potatoes, and of course white beans, including those that meet USDA Healthy Food Standards.

Everything was going well with the health treatment until Fauble discovered that the recipe could not be used in schools.

A protein component of school breakfasts should be a must. In this bean recipe, since the white beans were mashed, they were unrecognizable. Schools will have to pay extra for another source of protein.

“For fruits and vegetables to count in a refundable school meal, there must be at least a quarter cup per meal and it must be determined,” Vobel said.

The USDA has a rule that states that if an ingredient is not visible, it does not count. Since the rule was preventing Fauble and her colleagues from getting the recipe in schools, they decided it was time for a change—except that it wouldn’t happen overnight. It will be a hassle process.

Penczar said trying to get the beans to be approved in recipes has been a challenge for some time now. Fauble wasn’t actually the first student to have trouble trying to get her recipe into schools. Two years ago, another student had the same problem creating a breakfast cookie using white beans.

It was Vobel and her classmates who brought the issue to the negotiating table with an issue called “Make Michigan Beans Matter.”

After realizing this rule you shouldn’t prevent kids from receiving healthy bean recipes and goods, Penczar and her team confronted the USDA.

“We asked them do you want to make a change, do you want to know how to make a change?” Penczar said.

The Penczar team consists of Food Services Director Dan Gorman from the Montague Public School District as well as many other individuals in the food industry.

Bean Michigan Commissioner Joe Kramer was part of the super team as well.

“Overall, we think beans are a nutritious protein source that is affordable for students,” Kramer said.

Kramer and his team work with dry bean growers and believe beans are a superfood. He says beans can be used in many different ways beyond their traditional uses.

With the help of these individuals, Penczar felt confident taking on the USDA.

“I knew as a culinary teacher at the tech center, that if I knocked on the USDA door and said, ‘I think this rule needs to change,’ they would ignore me, wouldn’t they?” Penczar said.

She says building this network of professionals who wanted to improve health and provide children with diets had an impact.

“We are slowly realizing that we have people from different walks of life who all share the same basic idea,” Bensar said. “We want our children and our community to enjoy local foods because it will make us healthier.”

Knowing these individuals helped speed up the process of speaking with the UDSA, within a week they received the callback.

Having the students on board was also the hook when it came to speaking with senators and attending meetings.

“Being able to hear the student’s voice helps a lot,” Penczar said.

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The team’s first steps were to go to a field hearing on Farm Bill, and it was a chance to learn more about what was going on with regards to farming in Michigan. Next steps included drafting a letter to the USDA and waiting for letters of support from state legislators and influencers helping with the cause.

In the meantime, they’re gearing up to meet Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabeno’s team and are actually closer to the answer.

When it’s time for the bean pie shine, it’ll be called Harvest Protein Muffin. The USDA suggested changing the name to have a more specific name.

“If we didn’t change the rule to make the donuts valuable, we’d have to eat a cup of whole beans which isn’t a good thing,” Vobel said.

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Vobel recounts that she once made the recipe without the mashed beans and it didn’t go well because there were chunks of whole beans inside.

“It was very surprising and it didn’t taste good,” Vobel said.

Penczar wants everyone to know that it’s not about baked goods, it’s about making sure the beans are important.

“It’s not about baked goods in particular, it’s about beans,” Benczar said. “Instead they are in a bun or just by themselves. Let’s just count the beans, mashed, or mashed as whole.”

If approved, the new rule would affect every food program overseen by the USDA.

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