Yes, that’s right. No more cake…well at least in limited portions balanced by other menu items like fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains. America’s schools are now being faced with the challenge of completely revamping their menus for the National School Lunch (NSL) and School Breakfast Programs (SBP) to be in accordance with new federal regulations (pdf). Along with creating new menus, schools are encountering added expenses related to food costs, increased labor rates, and purchasing new kitchen equipment. In a very brief summary, the new regulations require most schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low fat fluid milk; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children with their calorie requirements.
Recently Serv-U exhibited at the Illinois School Nutrition Association (ILSNA) annual convention, and at this show we heard many concerns and questions related to the new menu regulations. While our discussions ranged across a broad spectrum, one request was made repeatedly; what kind of salad bar options do you have and how can you help us reduce food waste. We saw this as a great opportunity to use our experience with salad service and presentation to help the schools solve their problems in an area that may be relatively unfamiliar to them.
As we talked more in depth with certain foodservice directors we narrowed their concerns into two general topics: How can we make the salad presentation attractive and exciting to students and how can we make the salad bars look full while avoiding potential costly food waste? Fortunately, the solutions to these issues can often work hand in hand.
Recently the foodservice industry has seen many new innovations in food pan shapes and sizes. Vollrath’s Super Pan Super Shapes were introduced a few years ago and have made a great impact on the visual appeal of hot and cold food bars. The stainless steel pans are available in a variety of eye-catching shapes from wavy Wild Pans to hexagons, ovals and kidneys. While adding an upscale and attractive appearance, the major benefit is that these pans offer reduced capacities when compared to standard food pan sizes. They are also versatile and can be used in conjunction with the traditional food pans many schools currently have, reducing the end cost of updating their buffet lines by possibly allowing a gradual transition into the new look.
In addition to the Super Shapes, we have also seen some striking new buffet options from G.E.T. Enterprises. The GN Melamine food pan line offers pans with wider decorative rims in a variety of bold colors such as terra cotta and cobalt blue. G.E.T. also has a line of Create-A-Bar Crocks that are a modular system of pans which nest together and would work exceptionally well for schools that would like to implement a yogurt breakfast bar with a variety of self serve fresh fruit and whole grain toppings. The Tiles and Cut-Outs family of products can be used to limit food waste by creating a full buffet appearance while spacing items farther apart with decorative drop-in templates.
On a simpler level, we are also able to help schools decrease food waste by adding very inexpensive products like false bottoms and drain shelves to their existing pans. And owing to the fact that the style, frequency and popularity of salad service will vary greatly by school, we can work with each district to determine the best option for the actual salad bar unit. If they are serving a smaller quantity of students at shorter time intervals a tabletop unit could be a perfect, relatively inexpensive solution. However, if their enrollment is large and their lunch service spans a couple of hours, a larger piece such as the Cambro Versa Bar System would be a great option. The Versa Bars allow for a variety of configurations and multiple uses from one unit, creating an effective transition from breakfast to lunch, or day to day menu changes.
Food waste and appealing presentation are challenges faced by virtually every foodservice operation...schools have an even greater battle owing to the fact that kids are often the pickiest of eaters. We support and applaud the efforts made by schools to encourage their students to choose healthy foods and we look forward to helping them as their menus evolve.