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School FSDs Weigh in on Weighty Issues

School FSDs Weigh in on Weighty Issues

Clowns set the mood before the conference kicks off.
After all, it WAS a Kids marketing Conference!

Sixth Annual Kid's Marketing Conference hosted by FM sister publication, Restaurant Hospitality, dove head-first into the obesity issue, looking at creative ways in which foodservice professionals could provide a more healthful dining experience.

What conference attendees learned was that no food is inherently bad as long as it is consumed in moderation and, the way kids perceive food must change before their eating habits will follow suit.

Among the many presenters weighing in on these and other issues were school foodservice professionals Meg Chesley, who spent more than 20 years working with the California school districts of Montebello Unified, Norwalk-La Mirada and the Corona-Norco Unified; Mary Kate Harrison, general manager for Hillsborough County's Student Nutrition Services department inTampa, Fla.; and Catharine Powers, director of curriculum for The Culinary Vegetable Institute-and Veggie U in Milan,-Ohio.

Outlining the challenges school foodservice faces was Chesley, who noted kids' changing expectations. “Kindergartners today have eaten out, on average, roughly 1,000 times before they start school,” she said. “They've experienced fresh prepared food served fast, friendly service in clean, comfortable surroundings. Studies teens held similar results.”

“Kids want to compare school foodservice to these experiences, and they expect value for their dollar,” she added.

Budgetary restraints can make this task difficult but as Chesley points out, it can be done. She suggests making school foodservice fresh, fast, fun and familiar by using branded products and home-style foods that are attractively presented in a clean, bright and colorful environment. Comfortable seating, taste testing, background music and fresh, nutritious foods are all ways to accomplish this, she added.

Sometimes even Herculean efforts, however, won't make kids eat healthfully away from home. As Mary Kate Harrison pointed out, only 14% of kids meet the target of two fruit servings per day, and only 17% meet the three vegetables per day target. But, she says, "our eyes are opening; we've got to do something about what we serve kids," She cited poor menu choices, bad meal timing and not enough time for meals as problems in some school foodservice programs. Also, “It costs more to serve healthier foods,” she added.

According to Harrison, packaging can play a big part in getting kids to eat more healthfully. For example, operations that have adopted black bowl salads with clear lids have seen salad sales triple. V-8 Splash and milk are popular items, too, especially since many schools have switched to specially designed milk cartons, such as square boxes featuring SpongeBob SquarePants and the like. “Plain cartons aren't cool,” she said, “and kids don't like to drink out of them.”

Harrison also suggested featuring a healthy meals express line, noting that, “Business as usual will not build a healthy nutrition program.” A lot can be done behind the scenes, too, she added, by using vegetable bases in cooking, adding butter flavoring, using calcium-fortified juices and low-fat dressings, and eliminating palm and coconut oils.

“We are all going to be paying for this (obesity) problem if we don't take care of it soon,” Harrison warned.

Offering some tips for promoting fruits and vegetables to kids was veggie expert Powers, who suggested sticking with goodtasting varieties in bite-sizes, and with foods kids can hold in their hands. Some examples: veggie kabobs, chips with fun salsas and vegetable or fruit quesadillas. Adding little extras, such as veggie fondues, savory and sweet dips, and salsa or chutney accompaniments, was also recommended.

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