Doing more with melons

Operators struggle against seasonality and availability when satisfying high demand for melons.

Published in FSD Update

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Melon with spirit

Located far from California’s nearly year-round melon availability is Iowa State University, in Ames. Scott Bruhn, executive chef for ISU Dining, says his department struggles with seasonality, but it has been able to use watermelon from a local grower for special events.

“We’ve bought red and yellow watermelon from a local farmer, which works well because our school colors are red and yellow,” Bruhn says. “In the past, we’ve done red and yellow melon balls, which we marinate in cassis. We carved a watermelon with the Iowa State logo on it, hollowed it out and then put those melon balls inside.”

The department also has done a prosciutto and blue cheese wrapped watermelon and a watermelon caprese skewer, which Bruhn describes as a watermelon ball, a fresh mozzarella ball, fresh basil and honey balsamic vinegar on a skewer. The department also offers standard preps of melons on the salad bar, as well as fruit salads that feature watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew when in season.

“I think what we’ve found is that the melon consumption in our dining halls, and fresh fruit consumption in general, has really jumped this year,” Bruhn says. “One of our largest dining halls has had to add two student workers just to cut melons in order to keep up with the demand. I think it’s born out of the students’ push for healthier and fresher menu options. During any given week, we use about 39 cases of cantaloupe, 15 cases of honeydew and 900 pounds of watermelon.”

Kids love melons

With new school meal requirements, increasing fruit options has been a top concern for school operators. But many operators say going beyond simply offering melons whole hasn’t been a hit with students. Ann Cooper, director of foodservice for the Boulder Valley School District, in Colorado, says her department has been able to purchase melons, at least in the fall, because they grow in Colorado.

“We don’t really cook with melons,” Cooper says. “They are on the salad bar and we’ll use them in catering in boxed lunches or in fruit and dip platters. We do offer a lot of grain salads on our salad bars, so melons can end up in those. For instance, we could be making a brown rice salad and melon would go into that.”

Students can take unlimited fruit from the salad bar, though Cooper says they have had to put some limits on watermelon. “Melon is just a big hit with the kids,” she says. “Watermelon is so sweet that we actually just give them one piece and then tell them they can come back for more. If given unlimited watermelon, they’d just have a plate of it and not eat their lunch.”

Serena Suthers, R.D., director of nutrition services for Prince William County Public Schools, in Manassas, Va., says her district also hasn’t gone beyond serving melons on the line. But not for a lack of trying. “We’ve done some salads with melon, but they haven’t gone over as well,” Suthers says. “The students prefer it plain. When we tried salads, we did a simple watermelon with jicama. The students didn’t dislike it, but they are more willing to take it when it’s plain.”

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