The first Annual National Conference since the introduction of new federal meal regulations for school foodservice drew more than 6,500 foodservice professionals and a record number of exhibitors to Kansas City, Mo., to talk about life in this new reality.
Al Roker, the famed weatherman from NBC’s “Today Show,” kicked off the conference with a message for operators: Childhood obesity is a serious problem, and it’s one that school foodservice professionals can have a hand in solving. Mixing humor and poignancy, Roker chronicled his own life-long battle with weight while urging attendees to set an example and make healthy meals a priority.
Many of the interest sessions staged at the conference focused on the new regulations and were called out on the program with a Hot Topic designation.
Among the most popular of these sessions were Meeting the New Meal Pattern Regulations with USDA Foods, New Meal Requirements for the School Breakfast Program and Reducing Sodium in School Meals.
But operators were eager to learn about more than the regulations themselves, and there were several sessions designed to allow operators to share with their peers how they are making the new regulations work for them. In Feed The Kids, Not The Can, four directors shared their success stories of reducing plate waste in their cafeterias. In Finding The Sweet Spot in the New School Nutrition Regulations, Chef Stephen Burke, executive chef for the Austin Independent School District, in Texas, talked about how he has been able to make school meals more appealing through color, texture and flavor.
In “Feed The Kids, Not The Can,” directors shared their success stories of reducing plate waste in their cafeterias. Most of the suggestions focused on monitoring what students are throwing away and finding a balance between what kids want and what they should eat. For example, Gay Anderson, child nutrition director for the Brandon Valley School District, in Sioux Falls, S.D., said her district has been able to reduce plate waste by half simply by opening a dialogue with students about their food choices.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning how to make the new regulations work,” she told the audience.
In “Finding The Sweet Spot in the New School Nutrition Regulations,” Stephen Burke, executive chef for the Austin Indpendent School District, in Texas, talked about how he has been able to make school meals more appealing through color, texture and flavor.
“Our experience has been that kids are more adventurous than we give them credit for,” Burke said. “If we give them food that looks appealing and tastes good, they are willing to try it.”
Operators who have no chef on staff learned how to take advantage of the Chefs Move to Schools program by bringing outside chefs into their districts. The Idaho Child Nutrition Office shared its experience of bringing a chef into several districts to preach and teach a healthy meal message, while Kern Halls, a former chef with Orange County Public Schools, in Florida, explained how the Chefs Move program works and how foodservice directors can become involved.
SNA partners were also on hand to help operators deal with the new regulations. A variety of new products such as whole-grain foods, low-sodium items, yogurts, seafood and even gluten-free dishes were offered to attendees to sample. Six culinary demonstrations during the exhibitor portion of the conference showed operators how to make creative, nutritious and kid-tested foods. The Cutting-Edge Complex on the exhibit floor featured equipment designed to help school cafeterias lower energy costs and more efficiently prepare healthier meals.
On the exhibit floor, operators could view and sample a number of items destined to help them meet the new meal regulations. Among the most popular options on display were whole-grain foods, both low-fat and fat-free traditional and Greek yogurts, lower sodium dishes—particularly Asian items—and fish and seafood.
Three foodservice professionals were honored with national awards during the conference. Angela Haney, director of student nutrition at Los Lunas Schools, in New Mexicao, was named the 2013 National Outstanding Director of the Year. Among Haney’s accomplishments have been adding 15 sites for summer feeding programs and expanding the after-school snack program. She also helped get Breakfast After The Bell legislation passed, which allows breakfast to be served in the classroom during instructional time.
The National Louise Sublette Award of Excellence in School Nutrition was presented to Beth Freeman, cafeteria manager for C. Milton High School in Harford County Public Schools, in Maryland. Freeman was recognized for revamping her breakfast program to increase participation She added a grab-and-go line, offered sample tastings and implemented a "Red Carpet Academy Award" theme for breakfast, complete with costumes and decorations.
The National Heart of the Program Award was given to Dawn Lehmann of Seckman Middle School, in Imperial, Mo. Lehmann was honored for the amount of time she gives to her school. For example, Lehmann regularly assists nighttime events at the school. She and a colleague have created a two-hour cooking class for students, which she teaches once a week to fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
At the conference’s end, Leah Schmidt, director of food and nutrition services at Hickman Mills C-1 School District, in Missouri, was installed as SNA President. Schmidt succeeded Sandra Ford.