More than 400 school food service professionals and business administrators from around New Jersey previewed the newest healthy school lunch and breakfast offerings available from food manufacturers for the 2016-2017 school year on January 21 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture presented the Fourth Annual USDA Foods Conference to showcase healthy school lunch and breakfast offerings that could appear in school cafeterias around the state next school year. The conference featured a vendor show of the latest trends in prepared school menu items made from U.S. Department of Agriculture donated bulk foods that also meet the nutritional requirements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act school food regulations implemented in 2013.
“This show highlights the efforts being made by food manufacturers and school food service to provide students with foods they will enjoy that also meet federal nutrition guidelines,” said Rose Tricario, NJDA Division of Food and Nutrition Director. “The Christie Administration supports programs such as this that assist school districts in providing healthy options in school cafeterias.”
The USDA Foods Distribution program allows schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to utilize USDA foods and distribute them to processors who make nutritious, reduced-fat, lower sodium, whole grain products at a cost savings to school districts.
The conference gave school food service professionals the opportunity to sample the foods and speak directly with manufacturers to meet their district’s specific needs, helping them to determine which foods to order for the 2016-2017 school year.
This year, there were many creative options including, chicken patty sliders, vegetable whole wheat lo mein, chicken egg rolls, boil-in-bag real mashed potatoes and pre-washed baked potatoes.
Gene McDonald, Vice President of Sales for Rich Chicks said their breaded chicken products have whole grain breading and use whole muscle chicken.
“Sliders are a trend and we have found many schools even using them for breakfast,” said McDonald. “Schools are focused on participation. Kids are demanding minimally processed foods like they’d find in a restaurant.
Marcia Brenneman, school food service director for Washington Township schools in Morris County, agreed.
“The visual appearance is very important for kids,” said Brenneman. “They are restaurant-savvy and looking for schools to recreate that.”
Items that appeared to be making a comeback were mashed and baked potatoes. Karen Farrell, New Brunswick schools food service director said they serve a bowl with mashed potatoes, popcorn chicken and chicken gravy.
“Kids love mashed potatoes and there are lines when we put them out,” said Farrell. “Sometimes the only hot meal children get is in school, so we want to make sure they like it.”
Service First offered pre-washed baked potatoes that could be used on baked potato bars and boil-in-bag mashed potatoes made from real potatoes.
To start out the day, sessions were held to give program updates, review different types of acceptable procurements, and educate them about the Department of Defense Direct Delivery of Produce program. The program enables school districts to receive a larger variety of produce delivered directly to them on a weekly basis. It also allows them to purchase more Jersey Fresh products during the growing season.
For more information on the USDA Foods Distribution program, visit www.nj.gov/agricutlure/divisions/fn/fooddistrib/slcd.html.