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Students


January 21, 2006

Schools choosing healthier snacks
Melinda Morales, Staff Writer

Source: Tulare Advanced Register and Visalia Times Delta

Trans fats and whole grains are the new buzz words for buyers of food for schools and other institutional settings. And the less they see of it, the more likely they are to buy it.

So vendors at the Valley Food Service food show Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Visalia pulled out all the stops to showcase some of their best choices for school lunch menus.

Among them:
  • The Switch, a 100-percent juice, carbonated alternative to soda
  • Tree Top sliced and individually packaged apple slices
  • MJM-brand transfat-free, whole-grain cookies
  • Snacksations, a bakeable alternative to tater tots
  • A bakeable breakfast eggroll.

But how did they taste?

"The eggrolls tasted just like you were at a Chinese restaurant," said Katie Akin, a senior at Golden West High School, who was there with her mother, Sherrie Fehlman. Fehlman is in charge of the lunch program for Grace Homes, a substance abuse recovery center that helps girls who are pregnant or have young children.

A certified nutritionist, Fehlman said she feeds 50-60 girls a breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks every day, and the food show, with her daughter along to sample, helped her make good choices.

"For example, those eggrolls don't have to be fried. They can go in the oven, but they're still crispy," she said.

Manufacturers are scrambling to meet nutritional guidelines mandated by the state of California that hope to tackle the childhood obesity problem by requiring that schools provide low-fat, low-sugar and low-calorie foods in a balanced menu.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2005 signed into law two bills; SB12, which bans junk food by strictly limiting fats and sugars in snack foods sold on campus, and SB965, which extends the ban on sodas from elementary and middle schools to high schools.

Adhering to the state guidelines is a given, but for most buyers, finding something kids will eat, saving money and limiting waste are equally important.

Tracey Brazil and Lisa Magaņa are cooks with St. Rose McCarthy school in Hanford, where they feed 150-200 children a day.

"We tried the frozen bread products and are thinking of replacing our bread with that because we can use just what we need and not waste any," Brazil said.

A food show for school vendors Thirty-six vendors attended the food show, the seventh one put on by Valley Food Service in Visalia, said VFS general manager Erinn Taylor. "It makes it really good for food-service directors because they actually get to meet the manufacturers and see the products they're putting out," he said. "This way they can taste it. And they don't want to spend state money on it if kids aren't eating it."

Because most of the packaging contains information that identifies the item as either a bread or a meat or a fruit serving, it makes it easy for lunch program officials to identify nutritional content and plan balanced menus.
So while a doughnut might meet nutritional standards of one and one-half bread requirements, buyers might shy away from it if the packaging weren't clear.

"It's a balance," said a representative who declined to be named, "of finding the right grains, the right fats and the right proteins. They have a tough job to do."

The reporter can be reached at mmorales@ visalia.gannett.com.

Originally published January 19, 2006



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