Produce earns place in healthy kids meals - The Packer

Produce earns place in healthy kids meals

02/14/2014 10:52:00 AM
Tim York

“The salad bar has to appeal to all the senses,” Taylor said.

“Sometimes parents ask ‘how did you get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables?’ When they see the salad bar, they understand.”

Taylor points out that often students are eating fruits and vegetables that have been harvested within 48 hours, and while more preparation may be needed by staff at schools, it’s done through focus on the end goal: improving health and combating childhood obesity.

(Interested in learning more about the Farm-to-School program? USDA offers a series of Web seminars until June of this year.)

As schools and restaurant operators continue to promote healthy eating among kids, the time is right for grower-shippers to jump in.

Start with what the consumer sees. Familiarize yourself with kids’ menus at local independent restaurants and national chains.

How would your products fit those menus? How would further processing, new packaging or creative partnerships improve their chances? What produce is currently working on the kids menu and why? How can your products follow suit?

If you don’t eat your products raw, you can bet kids won’t either. It’s critical for grower-shippers to research and promote flavor-boosting cooking techniques. Consider conducting your own taste tests with kids.

Once you’ve completed the R&D, don’t skimp on how you present it. Are your communications easy to read and easily posted in a busy kitchen? Are they offered in multiple languages?

Do you know at least one head chef in your area? A conversation with folks on the front line will yield insights into the local opportunities and barriers.

For schools, focus on crops whose supplies will be plentiful and prices moderate. Talk to your local school foodservice director to learn about his or her needs.

Also, think about how you can form partnerships beyond the lunchroom. Can you offer tours of your local farm? Can you help educate students about how produce is grown, or how to cook and eat it?

Healthy kids’ meals was the fourth most-predicted trend for 2014, while children’s nutrition took seventh place, according to a National Restaurant Association study. And when study participants were asked what trend will dominate 10 years from now, health/nutrition was listed third after environmental sustainability and local sourcing.

Strike while the industry is highly motivated to increase sales by helping families make healthier choices.

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif., Markon Cooperative, made up of eight North American foodservice distributors. Centerplate is a monthly column offering a peek at “what’s now and next” for foodservice and the implications for the produce industry. E-mail

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