Clean labels come to the classroom

kids school lunch

From Foster Farms.

National restaurant chains who have worked to remove artificial ingredients and flavors on their menus may have captured recent industry headlines. But in their own quiet way, K-12 school districts are making progress in switching to clean label foods as well.

“Schools are probably coming into this notion a bit later than retail, and only because they are such fragile systems to begin with,” says Toni Liquori, executive director of School Food Focus, a New York-based organization that works with school districts and food suppliers in collaborative procurement efforts. “But they are moving along. Most of the country is going in this direction.”

Significantly, consumers give weight to clean labels. Products described with claims such as “preservative free,” “natural” and “no artificial sweeteners” were perceived by more than 70% of consumers as slightly or much healthier, according to the Technomic 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report.

However, one of the challenges that school districts face in implementing clean label products is affording them on small budgets. “The cheapest food out there is highly processed and not as healthful as you would want it to be for kids’ growth or for the environment and local economies,” says Liquori.

Even so, K-12 foodservice directors are innovating with their budgets.

At South Haven Public Schools in Michigan, food service director Amy Nichols says she doesn’t seek clean label foods exclusively, but she does keep an eye out for new products. “I usually purchase them if they are reasonably close in price, because they just seem more like real food and not the typical school cafeteria food,” says Nichols. She says she has tried some great chicken products.

Definitions vary, but most people use the term “clean label” to describe products made with simple, recognizable ingredients rather than artificial or synthetic substances. Attributes such as fresh, local and natural, as well as free-from statements, such as antibiotic-free, GMO-free and hormone-free, may also apply to clean label foods.

Restaurants are prominent role models. “It just makes sense” to eat real foods, declares the website of Core Life Eatery, a fast-casual concept that favors locally sourced, organic and GMO-free ingredients. Boston Market has announced plans to serve only rotisserie chicken that is antibiotic-free by 2018. And Panera Bread boasts that its “100% clean” non-carbonated craft beverages, such as iced black tea and plum ginger hibiscus tea, are made with no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors from artificial sources.

At South Haven schools, the student reaction to clean label foods has been positive. “Honestly, they prefer them,” says Nichols. “It may seem odd, but they eat more of the clean items than the older versions.”  

Nichols notes that another benefit of clean label foods is that they give her a greater feeling of confidence when serving with food allergies. “I don’t have to Google ingredients that I don’t recognize and certainly can’t pronounce,” Nichols says.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
roasted butternut tartine

In a bid to meet customers’ growing interest in plant-based dishes, foodservice vendor Aramark will soon roll out a number of new meatless dishes on the college campuses it serves.

Some of the new plant-centric items it’s taking to colleges this fall include the Greek-inspired Spanakopita Quesadilla, an open-faced sandwich topped with roasted butternut squash and the Sweet Potato Smash sandwich (sweet potato, cranberry sauce and goat cheese on ciabatta bread).

Nearly a third (30%) of the entrees Aramark serves up at colleges are either vegetarian or vegan, the...

Industry News & Opinion

$1.5 million will be used to increase farm-to-school programs in the state.

Sponsored Content
cheese and pretzels

From AFP advanced food products llc

Foodservice operators are tasked with doing more with less—and managing food inventory is no exception.

All foodservice operations want to keep inventory at minimum, and operators are reducing the ingredients needed in their kitchens through strategic and savvy menu building.

There are a few primary reasons for the reduction in ingredients: cost, quality and space. By buying larger quantities, an operator can get better per unit ingredient costs. And by functioning on a limited number of ingredients, the inventory is used faster...

Industry News & Opinion

Bakersfield City School District is expanding the number of schools participating in a program to donate leftover cafeteria food to local shelters, Bakersfield.com reports.

The program, called Waste Hunger, Not Food, began last April in partnership with the county health department. Due to its initial success, the program is expanding from one elementary school to six schools starting this school year.

Under the program, students place unopened milk cartons, whole fresh foods and unopened prepackaged food that they don’t want into three separate bins. The health department...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code