Food service seeks low-fat alternatives
By Monique Harrison
Officials at this weekend’s Mississippi School Food Service Association 27th Annual Conference say reducing the amount of fat contained in school lunches is their top priority.
“I’m looking for low-fat foods,” said Pontotoc County Schools Food Services Administrator Rhonda Robertson. “But it still has to be something with taste – something our customers, the students, will pick up and eat.”
And the majority of the 120 exhibitors who are pushing their foodstuffs as part of the conference, held at the Tupelo Furniture Market, have been working to develop foods that meet Robertson’s low-fat standards.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture passed regulations requiring school districts to begin serving meals that provide youngster’s with one-third of a day’s Recommended Daily Allowance of protein, calcium, iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Under the requirements, fat calories can account for no more than 30 percent of all calories contained in a meal. Of those fat calories, only 10 percent can come from saturated fat.
For that reason, low-fat fries produced by J.R. Simplot Co. grabbed the attention of many of the 500 school food services participants, including Robertson.
When baked, company officials say the fries contain 45 percent less fat than fried fries. A patented, all-natural gel that covers the fries is designed to prevent them from absorbing oils, making the fries soggy.
“We are really proud of our hold time,” said J.R. Simplot’s Sharron Copenhaver, who said the fries would stay crisp and warm under a heat lamp for about 30 minutes.
Pascagoula Separate School District is currently using the fries at the elementary level, where all frying equipment has been removed in an effort to reduce the fat content of food.
As always, food services officials are relying heavily on pizza to boost their sales.
“Most kids love the pizza,” said Lee County Schools Food Services Director Susan Killens. “That doesn’t change.”
What has changed is the way some schools are serving that pizza.
A machine manufactured by Romulan, Inc. allows schools to offer special-order personal pizzas made right before students’ eyes.
Anytime Pizza is a machine that operates on conveyor belts. A half-baked pizza crust is inserted into the machine. Then, the machine swirls in tomato sauce, cheese and the toppings students request. The first pizza produced takes just over two minutes, with every other pizza after that takes about 30 seconds.
General Mills is pushing both a frozen yogurt and a refrigerated yogurt that are low-fat. But their biggest sellers have been low-fat brownies and low-fat cake.
“Cake’s a staple,” said General Mills’ Sonny Tedford. “Schools need low-fat deserts to offer.”