My third and final day at FNCE was slower paced on purpose (I slept through the first session) but still filled to the brim with food knowledge. First up:
Creating a Healthier Generation through Culinary Innovation in School Foodservice
This was the first culinary demo I attended because most were sponsored by food companies. Though this, too, was sponsored by ARAMARK, I felt like the recipe ideas presented served as positive inspiration to ignite sparks of creativity throughout the audience without implying: “You must use ARAMARK to achieve this.”
Three meals were prepared:
- Whole grain macaroni and cheese – a simple mix of skim milk, flour (used to thicken rather than full-fat heavy cream), cheese and whole wheat noodes
- Salad shakers – lettuce, tomato, corn, black beans, grilled chicken, cheese and ranch in a portable cup
- Greek pizza – hummus takes the place of sauce and is topped with cheese, tomatoes and grilled chicken
With modifications, I’d eat all of it. I was surprised and impressed to see all of them easily adaptable to a vegetarian diet. I was also surprised to see real food being prepared at all considering everything I’ve seen in public school kitchens goes from freezer to oven to tray to mouth with no culinary skill required.
I was kind of horrified when the whole wheat macaroni was reluctantly presented to the audience with the explanation, “It’ll look better and less brown once it’s covered up.” to which the audience nodded enthusiastically. What’s wrong with darker pasta? Kids won’t eat that? I don’t have kids, and Ralphie will eat anything. Enlighten me. Will kids really not eat whole wheat pasta and bread because it’s darker? If so, should we as adults not take it upon ourselves to stop agreeing with them?
I thought the salad shakers were a great idea (McDonald’s thought so several years ago, too). My experience with the salad bar at my high school is that kids will pile on mountains of croutons, cheese and ranch and leave the greens as an afterthought. These little shakers make it easy to control portions and, I guess, force greens upon them. I’m down. My only complaint: I think that ranch and cheese is overkill. Pick one or the other. And I got the impression from the presenters and audience members that kids refuse to eat vinaigrette dressings. OK so… continue rewarding them with ranch? I don’t see this as a productive way to enlighten their lame little palates. As you’ll see in the other session I attended on this day, children require multiple (like, dozens) of exposures before they may like a food. Let’s not hold the bar so low.
Finally, the Greek pizza looked awesome, but I wouldn’t have added cheese. Hummus + cheese + chicken is protein overload. I know that burying things under cheese is the sure fire way to get a kid (or adult) to eat it, but again, let’s raise the bar a little bit here on our expectations what kids will eat. If cheese is a must, I’d go with a sprinkling of super flavorful feta rather than burying it under a blanket of fat-free mozzarella. That’s just me.
Emerging Opportunities for RDs in the Restaurant Industry
This session was of great interest to me because I’m very passionate about (who still says that?) educating the restaurant industry on the rise in Celiac disease, food allergies and vegan/vegetarian diets and how they can capitalize on this trend if they learn to crank out safe, allergy/diet-friendly foods in an uncontaminated environment.
Think about it: I am a vegetarian. I do not like my vegetables cooked with bacon or chicken stock. I don’t believe most restaurant workers (especially in South Carolina) when they roll their eyes and tell me it’s not in there. Wouldn’t I be more likely to spend my food dollars somewhere that I know the staff has been trained to understand my unique dining needs? Same goes for someone with Celiac. You think they’re gonna risk eating a gluten-free pizza crust that was probably tossed into the same oven with the wheat doughs? Unlikely.
I actually approached some restaurants in Greenville with an offer to counsel them (for free because I’m technically unqualified) on creating a more vegetarian-friendly menu, kitchen and staff. I pitched it from the angle that they’d be able to increase sales if they could appeal to a large portion of the population. No one took the bait. One day though… Sweet Tater, RD will be much more convincing.
Using School-Based Gardens to Promote Dietary Changes Through Childhood
This final session was a really fascinating and encouraging presentation of research completed by Early Sprouts, a prevention program that uses gardens at childcare centers to teach children healthy eating habits, math, reading and more.
By involving students in the vegetable-growing process, offering vegetable tastings in a positive environment (and doing so multiple times) and sending recipes and vegetable packets home so that the whole family could get involved, the group succeeded in increasing children’s likability of all vegetables offered.
It’s a really brilliant program and I wish I had the time to rant on about it, but I have a paper to write. So check out their site. My favorite things to note:
- If a child (or adult, I’d argue) rejects a food, don’t give up and never serve that food again. It takes multiple exposures for success.
- Get the parents involved. If you’re in a childcare setting and trying to initiate change on site, odds are all your hard work is going out the door when the child goes home. Early Sprouts’ idea to send home vegetables from the garden along with recipes to try is a brilliant way to carry the message outside the classroom.
- Gardening doesn’t just teach kids about gardening. It doesn’t just teach them about food, either. Early Sprouts used the garden as way to teach the kids math (measuring), reading (recipes), art (drawings of the food), vocabulary (whisk, saute, boil – these aren’t normal words 4-year-olds say) and more.
FNCE continued for another full day, but I had to head back to South Carolina. I even missed Anthony Bourdain’s closing address. I may never get over that.
Nevertheless! A wonderful experience that I would strongly encourage more dietetics students to attend. We newbies were definitely in the minority.