Healthy Kids Healthy Flavors: National Invitational Leadership Summit

Culinary Institute of America – San Antonio, Texas

Sharon and Tami

May 7-9, 2013 – This conference is a national initiative to improve the health of children and young people through food education, culinary strategy and flavor insight.  About 200 participants gathered at this collaboration of leaders in school foodservice and child nutrition to hear the latest research, exchange success stories and challenges and share education and culinary strategies.


New Research Shows School Foodservice Gaining Favor with Students

The opening research presentation by Y-Pulse ( provided insight into kids perspectives on where they eat, what they choose and what they love about their favorite places to eat.  It was no surprise that kids favorite places to eat are at home and at restaurants, but the study showed significant gains in kids liking their school cafeteria since 2006 when this study was first released.


When the 500 boys and girls who participated in the recent survey were asked to share their thoughts on what made their favorite places so desirable, some clear learnings emerged.

  • Homemade or made by mom is the definition of quality.
  • Anything described as fresh is perceived to be healthy.
  • Customization is key to success in letting young consumers make their own choices on exactly how they like their food.


For the complete copy of the presentation click here.


Made From Scratch, Made Quickly

Demonstrations by chefs on the CIA faculty as well as chefs from schools around the country shared culinary demonstrations and some of their favorite healthful, kid-pleasing recipes.  Key ideas that were presented throughout the presentations were ways to deliver the fresh experiences with mindfulness to the reality of high volume foodservice kitchens.  Recipes for every item demonstrated were available in a booklet that was shared with all attendees.


Tried and True Cooking Technique

Cooking advice really hit home when professional chefs from schools and other segments of the industry shared techniques that really work with kids. Following are a few examples of flavor enhancing techniques:

  •  Caramelizing and roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables.  Every kitchen has an essential convection steamer, but other cooking techniques are preferred to add flavor and appeal to vegetables.
  • Herbs from the school garden add fresh appeal and flavor.  The basics like rosemary, thyme and basil are versatile and easy ways to add flavor and reduce sodium.
  • Effective use of spices like smoked paprika can add depth of flavor that is appealing to kids.  Hot spices appeal to kids and allow for reduction of sodium without detraction of flavor appeal.
  • Hand held satisfaction appeals to kids.  An oatmeal bar served at a break demonstrated a technique to turn a nutritious meal component or snack into a hand held treat that can be made in 15 minutes, or a day ahead.  Kids appreciate it because it tastes great and all of the ingredients are easy to recognize.
  • Many techniques were discussed to coax umami out of healthful food.  One of the simplest was adding tomato sauce to whole wheat pasta.
  • Fried, but not Fried is sure to please.  Baking items with toasted breadcrumbs on a rack delivers a delicious product that is crispy and crunchy on both sides.
  • Light sauces under fish steam the fish while cooking, add beautiful flavor and avert overcooking.
  • Bigger pieces communicate made from scratch and not over-processed.  Kids want to recognize the ingredients in their meals.


Creating a Dining Experience in the School Cafeteria

A breakfast favorite, banana bread, is a nutritious item that kids love.  And the aroma that comes from the cafeteria when it’s baking communicates fresh-baked-here in a powerful way.


Chefs from other segments of the foodservice industry talked about adding bacon to add flavor.  Although this is not a technique for school foodservice, one school chef talked about increasing his lunch participation by 14% on days when he microwaves a little bacon and turns on a fan facing the cafeteria.


Discussion of adding more sizzle to menu descriptions offered up some great sources to help schools create that commercial restaurant experience with mouthwatering menu descriptions.  Yet at the same time, clever names that obfuscate what the item really is were not deemed necessary.  Descriptions that are fresh and uncomplicated sell.


The Psychology of Portion Control

Word of wisdom on portion control came from Yale Chef DeSantis who shared that students on his campus like to graze.  Students were cutting the 6 ounce portions of fish in half and no one would take the second half left in the pan.  A simple solution of serving 3 ounce portions added greater customer satisfaction and less waste.


In creating more healthful meals, visual cues are more powerful than individual intuition and many techniques were shared for making healthful menu offerings appear satisfying and delicious.


On The Wish List

School foodservice has lots of “special needs” when it comes to delivering food to students, but the more favorable the experience compares to commercial foodservice or retail options, the more appealing it is.  On the wish list is a product that meets school foodservice requirements that is also sold successfully at retail.


Parents in The Kitchen

Not all of the opinions parents hold about school foodservice are accurate.  Several of the industry leaders at this conference shared their opinions about how they bring parents into their kitchens and turn them into advocates for the school foodservice program.


  • Behind the Lunch Counter – parents in Florida are invited to school about 6 times a year for a behind the scene tour of kitchens and education about the foodservice experience.  The event takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. and about 400 parents attend each time.
  • Family Fitness Night – parents in Texas are invited for Family Fitness Night where they are treated to cooking demos and dinner to promote the school foodservice programs.  This program also brings nutrition and lifestyle education to the community.
  • Lunch for Dinner – parents in Minnesota enjoy a tour of the Central Kitchen which is known as the Nutrition Center to see how meals are made for school.  They all enjoy a dinner of a typical school lunch with nutrition education as part of the program.
  • Epicurian Afternoon – in Texas brokers and manufacturers come to the table to literally set the table for an afternoon experience from 4 to 6 p.m. where parents are invited to sample the foods their children are served at school.


Digital Chatter

School FSD’s tweeted about creating healthy school meals using simple themes like “eat more colors,” and featuring a different colored vegetable each month.  Many of the comments revolved around removing things like sodium and calories from meals and putting the focus on flavor, since nobody – especially kids – want to hear what’s been taken out.  Positive messages have better results when dealing with health.  Comments on the overuse of steamers in school kitchens highlighted the steamer’s usefulness, but tweeters implored their peers to use preparations like browning, roasting and caramelizing, as well as adding spices to bring out more flavor.  Pork was highlighted as a cure-all for dishes, with attendees tweeting that if there is something wrong with a dish, it can usually be solved by adding a small amount of pork.



  • Healthy and Delicious are becoming more and more of a daily reality in school foodservice.  Suppliers offering no-compromise convenience are leading the way in serving this segment.
  • Cooking techniques work across all segments of the foodservice industry.  The key to customizing applications that meet school requirements are choosing USDA foods and building recipes in compliance with nutritional standards.
  • Scratch ready is the next generation of speed scratch ingredients.  Operators want products that offer convenience without a lot of ingredients or processing.  These types of products help them deliver a scratch experience and are also more helpful in managing the allergy process.
  • One Product – Ten Ways to Use It.  School foodservice operators are looking for versatility and want to minimize the number of ingredients they must stock with imaginative and school friendly applications.
  • Cross communication and product development between retail and foodservice divisions of major food companies have potential to yield greater success in delivering foods that meet young consumers total lifestyle needs at school, at home and on the go.

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