ANC19 Recap: 6 Dietitian-Approved Products to Try in Your Cafeteria
Every year, vendors from around the country come together to showcase their latest and greatest products at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference. Whether you missed the show this year or didn’t have a chance to explore the exhibit hall, I’m going to show you the most interesting products I found in St. Louis!
During my time walking around the exhibit hall, I noticed more and more vendors catering to students with special diets or food allergies. While most people in school nutrition have heard of sun butter, a sunflower seed alternative to peanut butter, watermelon seed butter or pumpkin seed butter are two flavors I tried that are more uncommon. Both products are nut-free and had a creamy, slightly sweet taste that was similar to almond butter. They can be prepared in any way peanut or almond butter would be served. I think these kinds of seed butter are going to grow in popularity as removing tree nuts and peanuts become more common in schools.
The other special diet and food allergy-friendly product I tried was a plant-based sauce from Plant-Based Pantry. These sauces were vegan, dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free. Most of the sauces were either potato or cauliflower based and came as queso, alfredo sauce, and more. I tried the queso, and it was very flavorful with a mild spice. These sauces would be great for vegetarian or vegan students, and students with dairy or soy allergies. The sauces also could serve as a lower fat and sodium option that you could introduce on your menu.
This colorful cart was created to be used by cafeteria staff for allergen-free product preparation and serving. I believe one of the barriers to students with allergies eating in a school cafeteria is the fear of cross-contamination. This cart can be used as a table to prepare allergy-free items, or as a serving, table to keep allergen-free items away from other foods served on the line. This cart would also serve as an excellent learning example when training your cafeteria staff and could be used as a talking point to make students more comfortable eating in your cafeteria.
It can be difficult to find a school menu that serves tuna or salmon- fish typically isn’t a big hit with students. StarKist has created a line of tuna and salmon packs in exciting flavors such as mango chipotle and lemon dill, which will hopefully encourage students to try something new and experiment with different foods and flavors. Fish is something I find to be underserved in the school cafeteria, which is sad because there are so many health benefits in this food. Salmon and tuna are both good sources of Vitamin D and high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and increase brain function. Many of these products also come from wild-caught fish, which have higher nutritional values than farm-raised.
Trying to find a two-ounce cereal to serve students for breakfast in high school is something that can prove to be a challenge. Offering a high school student two bowls of one-ounce cereal to meet guidelines is awkward and can be confusing to your cafeteria staff. I believe these two-ounce bowls would make for an easy grab and go breakfast for students while meeting meal requirements and preventing any serving size confusion for your cafeteria managers. These could be served at the elementary through high school level, or you can continue to use the one-ounce cereals for your younger grades.
Johnny Pops is not a new product, but something I have seen at most food shows I have been to, and I have always admired their product and vision- plus their popsicles are delicious. These pops have only 10 grams of sugar, and the short ingredient list includes blended fruit, milk, a little sugar, and salt- no preservatives or additives. Each Popsicle is also printed with an act of kindness! Johnny Pops also sells their product at several grocery stores – look for them the next time you go shopping!
This is just a shortlist of some of the many exciting products I tried at ANC. With thousands of products to sort through, I hope you found this narrowed down list as informative and interesting as I did. I can’t wait to see all the exciting new products next year!