The School Nutrition Association held its annual conference at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta this week. More than 900 vendors presented the latest in school food trends.
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There were all kinds of food options, including international, gluten-free and vegetarian fare. Companies also brought equipment to sell, from slicers and dicers to high-tech freezers.
School nutrition directors who attend this conference say there’s been a shift in school diets in recent years. Children want more options, and they’re selective about what they eat.
“They’re used to what’s happening in those kiosks in the malls or the restaurants,” says Gay Anderson, SNA vice president and school nutrition director for the Brandon Valley School District in South Dakota. “We’re looking at what’s the latest and greatest happening there. So, literally, whatever’s happening in that kind of culture, we try to bring it back to our school nutrition culture.”
Lynette Dodson is the school nutrition director for the Carrollton City Schools. Every month, she meets with the high school student council to hear what kinds of food kids want.
”For instance, we started a brunch bar because they told us they wanted to see breakfast at lunch,” Dodson says. “It really makes a difference when the students are part of the process, and they feel like they’re empowered and they’re more vested.”
Less food ends up in the trash can that way, too, Dodson says.
However, some schools have struggled to meet stricter nutrition guidelines rolled out under the Obama administration.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary, and former Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue has relaxed some of those requirements since taking office. He addressed the issue when he spoke at the conference Wednesday.
“You need to have the flexibility to fit your meals to the needs of the children that you serve,” Perdue told the audience. “While the intent of the original rules of the program were good, the reality was somewhat different.”
Perdue said districts would soon have more autonomy when it comes to food choices. For now, he says, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reviewing the current guidelines to determine whether the department should recommend changes.