The sun shone brightly over Salt Lake City as the School Nutrition Association’s 2015 Annual National Conference headed into its first full day Monday.
Here’s what was hot as I traversed the exhibit hall floor with SNA Education Committee Chair Gay Anderson of the Brandon Valley School District in South Dakota.
1. Whole wheat keeps evolving.
I was especially impressed by the chewiness of a few pizza crusts I tasted, and I never would have recognized that a baked egg roll was made with whole-wheat flour. On Tuesday, I’m planning on checking out the pastas to see how they stack up.
2. Getting that caffeine buzz.
While it’s certainly not something that’s being marketed to kindergarteners, coffee sold in cups 12 ounces or smaller is allowed under Smart Snack guidelines for high-schoolers. One manufacturer’s offering even featured DIY specialized coffee drinks, including real milk foam.
3. Going nuts.
As peanut butter and jelly sandwiches face possible extinction due to nut allergies, I noticed a few alternatives, including sunflower butter and soy butter. The latter came the closest to replicating that all-too-familiar nutty flavor.
4. Fun with fruit.
Over in the smaller produce section, the freshness of prepackaged fruits and vegetables, from pears to carrots, was front of mind. A representative from HMC Farms in California told me the company’s grapes, which come in half-cup prepackaged portions that meet nutritional guidelines, have a shelf life of up to three weeks.
5. Asian persuasion.
While the aforementioned pizza and the mighty chicken nugget still are going strong, manufacturers are taking major hints from the popularity of chains like Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s. Offerings for elementary-school diners (breaded in whole-wheat flour, naturally) tended to skew more toward sweeter, fruity flavors, while the huge Sriracha sauce trend is leading to spicier options for older kids.
6. Look the part.
Unlike the operators I encountered at the hulking National Restaurant Association show in May, SNA members aren’t afraid to get a little goofy. Plenty of districts were decked out in matching T-shirts, while one especially prepared group came dressed as “Wizard of Oz” characters. That Cowardly Lion suit couldn’t have been comfortable in the 85-degree desert heat.
By Dana Moran