With the release of the new school meal pattern, detailed in Becky Schilling’s outstanding article, the foodservice industry is taking a good long look at itself in an effort to be healthier. FSD thought it would be informative to check in with three operators from other segments to get their initial thoughts on the new school meal regulations and what it means for the industry as a whole.
Zia Ahmed, senior director of Dining Services, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio: My initial thought is that I personally think [the new school meal pattern is] a step in the right direction. However, it is ultimately going to be up to the individual to make the right choices. There is a little more control in the grade school system on what students can and cannot eat, but once they get to college they are going to be in a situation where if we can give them the appropriate amount of education and information and give them the choices, then their balance is going to be up to the individual students.
[OSU Dining] is already doing all of the things that fall under the school meal guidelines because of the variety of choices that we have. There are so many choices out there it is very hard in most cases not to find something healthy. That being said, we still have a lot of opportunities in the college market to reduce sodium and sugar content in our food, reduce calories and fat and avoid high fructose corn syrup. It will be very difficult to get away from at least some level of fried food or chocolate cake in colleges. Again, I think ultimately it just comes down to balance.
[Going forward] I think one of the major challenges is going to be cost, both in K-12 schools and in colleges. It will be very interesting to see how [K-12 schools] will be able to afford all the healthy items with the budget they have.
Carlos Rivera, director of dining services for Culinart, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, New York: It is incredible, at least here in New York, how school meal patterns have changed. The food now being served is more directed to healthy offerings. For example, quinoa and other grains are replacing fries, etc. We have hosted several school events at our location where we cook for mentor programs. Since these are high school students our menus are focused on fresh, healthy and local items. We can see that their knowledge is more enhanced in the area of healthy foods. It is almost a given that elementary and high schools here now all must have a fresh approach toward healthy dining.
Wayne Roe, executive chef for Sodexo at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee: I think some of these guidelines are askew. For example, the guidelines have approved a slice of pizza as a serving of vegetables because on average it will contain 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. On the other hand a smoothie containing 4 ounces of fresh fruit and 4 ounces of low-fat yogurt does not constitute a serving of fruit. Making a smoothie out of fruit has made it lose its appearance, which tells me that the government considers that a slice of pizza looks like a couple of whole tomatoes. I could go on, but it would just be a reflexive debate. What it comes down to, in schools and in healthcare, is that if customers are hungry, they’ll eat it. If it tastes good, they’ll eat it. If it’s their only option they will eat it. So if we only provide healthy foods and beverages in appropriate portions, in theory, all we’ll have is a healthy population.
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