BY DIANE RIDGE
The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers have test marketed fish tacos in Seattle, Houston and Virginia Beach. Students rated appearance, taste and texture on a scale of one to five with five being the highest. The average scores ranged between three and five.
The tacos feature genuine Alaska pollock, flour tortillas and shredded cabbage/carrot mix. Other suggested toppings: chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, jalapeno peppers, fruit salsa, cilantro lime dressing, salsa lime dressing or curry orange dressing.
Recipe ideas from home, friends and peers are natural places to get ideas for kid menus, but with time and test-kitchen resources at a premium—if an option at all—operators should look to manufacturers and commodity boards to help pave the way to healthful and fun food choices for kids.
"Large and small manufacturers have always wanted to work with schools," says consultant Donna Wittrock, a past president of the School Nutrition Association. "But, they've had to over-come a lot of challenges—state and federal regulations, how reimbursement governs price, what products to develop, and in what particular portion sizes for that market," she says.
Luckily, many learned to deal with such issues. From fortified flat breads and whole grain pasta, to "kid-sized" seafood and meat selections, to a larger assortment of soy products, manufacturers are a great ally in the kids meal game.
And when the customers are kids in K-8 schools, the key is to encourage healthful choices with an atmosphere that keeps the focus on fun.
Diane Ganci, Chartwells regional chef for the Mid Atlantic area, boils it all down to logic. "What is it that kids are looking for? Finger food, anything easy to handle," she says. "Sometimes you just need to look back at the experience of lunchtime, the social ease, the fun of it!"
To that point she has developed some choices that the kids have a hard time resisting, like the approach she refers to as Chartwells pizza "rip and dip" concept. Healthful pizza ingredients are formed into a calzone-shaped entrée and kids are encouraged to rip em' and dip' em into a savory tomato sauce.
Then there's the Thanksgiving Turkey Wrap, a burrito style Thanksgiving meal all rolled up in an easy-to-eat wrap.
Snacking is a big part of a youngster's diet, as growing kids are always hungry. This past spring, Aramark introduced SnackFactor, which capitalizes on that trend and helps kids make better choices.
"Healthy snacks equal healthy energy after all," says Vanessa Blake, Aramark food service director at Ramapo Indian Hills School in New Jersey. The program offers students more than 150 healthy snack options, including organic version of low fat granola bars, cereal bars, baked chips, crackers, yogurt, smoothie beverages and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The items are available at various locations, including the traditional food line, during before and after-school care, in the classroom, and in grab-and-go kiosks and vending machines.
Marsha Carlson, lunchroom manager at Waynesville elementary school in Georgia offers up a list of the typical daily fresh vegetable choices: tossed salad (with Ranch dressing, of course) chef salad, carrot sticks, celery sticks, zucchini sticks.
Zucchini sticks? "Well, they're not really a big hit yet," she says, "but we'll keep trying!"
The hands-on 'courses' offered by Carlson and the faculty are the real hit, she says. The youngest students (pre-k/kindergarteners) observe the culinary staff preparing vegetables and fruit and get their hands in on the bakery production. The scratch-made yeast rolls are 'pinched off' by the students, baked and served family-style at lunchtime!
"Getting kids involved in cooking their own meals may make a positive impact in their lifelong eating habits," she adds.
Plant a garden, grow a mind
For information on starting an urban garden for your school, look to the National Gardening Association website at www.garden.org. The "Kids Gardening" section provides information on family, school and community gardening projects and how you can start your own.
Key HACCP Points for School Foodservice Operations:
Source: EcoSure, an Ecolab Company
Kid friendly recipes and more...
For activity ideas, menu planning, and kid-friendly recipes check out these resources. Those marked with an * have school-specific resources, while the others offer great recipes—even kids will like!
Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute