Tri-State School Food Service Directors Gather for National Nutrition Convention

New Jersey School Nutrition Association president Sal Valenza (L) was feted at the School Nutrition Association’s 70th Annual National Conference (ANC) in Texas

The Metro New York area’s leading school food service directors were among some 6,500 school nutrition professionals who gathered for the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 70th Annual National Conference (ANC) in Texas last month.

The ANC was held in San Antonio and provided Tri-State school food directors and their teams the opportunity to taste healthy foods, preview new equipment and technology, attend education sessions and share best practices. The event featured more than 100 education sessions, the largest exhibit hall in school nutrition and networking opportunities, all designed to help attendees improve school meal programs for students.School_Nutrition_logo

Among the top goals for attendees at this year’s event was sourcing foods and recipes that meet federal nutrition standards, appeal to students and fit within tight school meal program budgets. Recent regulations require school meals to include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less calories, fat and sodium. ANC offers school nutrition professionals opportunities to identify successful strategies to improve menus while maintaining financially sustainable programs.

ANC exhibitors and education session presenters were also offered solutions for serving students with food allergies, transitioning to scratch cooking and clean-label menus, expanding access to after-school and summer meals, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and improving communication and services for parents.

Key highlights included education sessions on diverse topics such as conducting student taste tests, reducing food waste, sourcing local foods, and improving food safety and program management.

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The largest Exhibit Hall in the school nutrition industry with 200,000 square feet of exhibits from 412 companies, partner organization, non-profits and US Department of Agriculture divisions. Exhibitors offered foods, beverages, equipment, technology, nutrition education and menu planning tools. Attendees sampled whole grain foods, lower sodium entrees, low fat dairy foods, recipes to incorporate more produce in school meals and much more.

Attendees found a number of exciting trends on display, including: Ethnic Menus: For schools seeking to appeal to increasingly diverse student tastes, exhibitors offered a multitude of ethnic choices, from Thai Style Chili Sauces to Verde Pork Tacos. There was a vast array of Produce Options: Every school meal includes fruit and vegetable sides. Exhibitors offered recipes and serving ideas to boost student consumption and incorporate more produce into entrees. Attendees sampled everything from mushroom burgers and veggie stir-fry to healthy dips, smoothies and parfaits. Culinary demonstrations featured innovative school recipes like Sweet Sriracha Chili Chicken Rice Bowls and Coco Banana Smoothies.

The directors found a full portfolio of reduced-sodium dishes to sample highlighted by lower sodium soups, sauces and entrees, and ideas, recipes and seasonings to gradually reduce the sodium content in school menus. Another key issue that was tackled in San Antonio was Allergen Alternatives.  With food allergies and special dietary requests on the rise, exhibitors offered a variety of allergen-free alternatives including gluten-free and nut-free foods, lactose-free and soy milks.

ANC also featured Cleaner Label Choices: Mirroring retail trends, school cafeterias are working to reduce preservatives and additives in menu items. Attendees taste tested everything from antibiotic-free whole muscle chicken to sauces and seasonings made without MSG, artificial colors or flavors.

Attendees previewed menu and payment technologies apps allowing students and parents to monitor account balances, make payments and conveniently view menu options, including allergen and nutritional profiles, on mobile devices. Attendees also previewed equipment and resources to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen.

The show floor once again offered a full array of equipment and supply solutions. Among the most notable trends were energy-efficient equipment, products and services to expand access to healthy school meals. Attendees found carts, kiosks, coolers and point of service sale systems that allow students to access meals outside of the cafeteria through breakfast in the classroom and healthy grab-and-go meals and snacks.

General Sessions speakers included former Olympic athletes, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Shannon Miller and Rowdy Gaines; Chef & Television Personality, Carla Hall; and Broadcast Journalist and Television Host John Quiñones.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 56,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students.