Success in school starts with school meals
General Mills Foodservice takes pride in leading our industry when it comes to serving solutions that help our K-12 school customers succeed. We do so only with a deep understanding of their aspirations and needs.
The School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference (ANC) is the perfect forum to gain that insight.
So last week, I attended the ANC with a variety of colleagues from General Mills, to better understand what these K-12 operators need to accomplish and what they are trying to achieve.
The ANC conference, among many things, is an incredible opportunity to meet and interact with hundreds of K-12 foodservice directors and managers from across the country.
One fundamental tenant remains unchanged from past years – K-12 operators share a primary mission to get the maximum number of children eating nutritious meals every day.
They do their best to prevent any student from going without a good meal because they know without it, kids are at a significant disadvantage both in and out of school.
School breakfast consumption, while experiencing an incredible upswing, remains a major focus as too many kids are still not consistently eating anything in the morning.
The great news is that many K-12 districts have figured out ways to bring far more kids to breakfast over the past year.
Hundreds of districts and schools in the U.S. are now taking advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program from the UDSA that makes it easier to feed free breakfast and lunch to more kids while requiring far less administration work.
School foodservice directors and managers are also getting savvier at marketing their breakfast programs. I talked to a district director who conducted a massive taste test event of possible menu items with students – gaining their input early on to make sure they serve the meals kids want going forward.
On the other hand, many operators still face significant challenges in getting breakfast to more kids.
Some students continue to struggle with acceptance of food that adheres to strict USDA nutritional guidelines and thus tastes different than food they get from restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores.
Further, there often is just not enough time to get every kid a breakfast before the bell rings. Serving breakfast in the classroom is an increasingly common solution to this found across the country, but many school principals still will not allow it because they believe breakfast is too messy in the classroom or might be a distraction from school work.
So for many K-12 operators, the challenge and opportunity lies in convincing students and other stakeholders that eating a healthy breakfast at school every day should be a top priority.
At ANC, we featured new, easy ways for districts to add exciting variety to their meal programs across the entire school day.
We gave out samples of easy prep-and-serve options that kids love: mini bagels for breakfast; Old El Paso Gorditas for lunch; and Nature Valley Crisps for any occasion.
Chef Monica Coulter made and served samples of Blenderless smoothies – fast and easy smoothies kids love, no blender required. A line of gluten-free Cheerios, available soon, will help K-12 districts make sure every kid has access to breakfast options they love, regardless of their dietary restrictions.
In K-12, our solutions do not stop at just products – we also leverage our expertise to educate and bring new ideas to our customers.
Throughout the conference, the General Mills team presented several education sessions to K-12 operators and nutrition experts: The Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition Team sponsored a presentation on whole grain; Drew Helmey, K-12 channel marketing manager, shared trend information on Generation Z; and Candace Ryan, R&D manager, presented “Food Science: A Menu Development and Education Tool”.
Our job now is to take what we heard that customers need most and develop the solutions that we will feature at the 2016 SNA ANC in San Antonio.
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