There was plenty going on at this summer’s conference of school foodservice professionals in Dallas. After four days of impassioned speeches, enthusiastic sales pitches, miles of walking and probably too much tasty sampling, we had experienced a lot. Here’s our attempt to narrow it down to a Top Ten list.
1. Whole Grains
Nearly every booth was talking about it, whether the exhibitors were sampling pancakes, waffles, french toast or pizza. There were jugglers juggling waffles, pizza guys tossing pies into the air, and sales reps demonstrating whole grain or multigrain tortillas, cereals and breads. It was happening everywhere in the exhibit hall.
2. Lower Sodium
Cutting sodium was another healthy trend that was impossible to miss by anyone walking the show floor. Dietitians explained how companies were able to reduce sodium amounts by as much as 30 percent without sacrificing flavor, and tasting the samples proved it.
3. Fresh Fruits and Dairy
Strolling down the â€˜Produce Rowâ€™ and â€˜Dairy Wayâ€™ aisles of the exhibit hall, fresh-and-healthy was the phrase you kept hearing. We sampled delicious fresh pineapple, mango and peaches. So refreshing. We tasted a variety of flavored milksâ€”and learned that many kids still aren’t getting enough calcium. And, yes, we had our picture taken to show off our milk mustaches.
4. Michelle Obamaâ€”Not There, But Everywhere
No, the First Lady was not at this summer’s conferenceâ€”she had attended the SNA Legislative Action Conference in Marchâ€”but if her physical presence wasn’t there, her spirit certainly was. It seemed everyone who spoke, exhibited, or attended the conference mentioned the First Lady in nearly every other sentence. Mrs. Obama, of course, has championed improvements in school meal programs as part of her quest to end childhood obesity within a generation. Her â€˜Let’s Move!â€™ and â€˜Chefs Move to Schoolsâ€™ programs dominated much of the discourse. SNA members have a real ally in Mrs. Obama, and they clearly value her support.
5. Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef
Hundreds of chefs have signed on to adopt school cafeterias across the country in the Chefs Move initiative, and on hand to represent the First Lady and bring the school nutrition professionals up to speed on the program was White House assistant chef, Sam Kass. The school foodservice professionals wanted to hear all about the program and had the opportunity during the Q&A portion of one of the education sessions, and in the occasional one-on-one encounters with Chef Sam on the exhibit floor.
6. Tray Talk
The Tray Talk community outreach program includes an inspiring video that SNA members can show at PTA meetings or other public forums, plus a Web site, traytalk.org, that will offer facts about the nutrition of school meals, local success stories, and a tool kit to help SNA members spread the word on the quality of those meals in their local communities back home.
7. The Cowboy Spirit
You’ve probably heard of the phrase â€˜Cowboy Up!â€™ As in â€˜It’s time to cowboy up and get this done.â€™ Well, that quickly became the attitude of the SNA members, right from the exhibit hall’s opening day, which was highlighted by the appearance of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders who led a parade to the hall’s opening. Also on hand was Cowboys running back Tashard Choice, who helped the cheerleaders get the crowd revved up for the conference. Western hoedown music kept the cowboy spirit going throughout the show, playing the general session speakers on and off the stage in lively fashion.
8. Fizzy Juice
It was everywhereâ€”and everyone who was sampling the carbonated fruit juice had it packaged in skinny little aluminum cans designed to resemble energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull. We tried three or four different brands of the bubbly fruit juices and each of us had our own taste preferences, but every one of them was refreshing and had obvious kid appeal.
9. Passing of the Torch
The closing General Session was highlighted by the passing of the SNA presidential torch, from outgoing president Dora Rivas to the new leader for the upcoming school year, Nancy Rice. Rivas spoke proudly if somewhat wistfully about her year at the helmâ€”a year that found the association sparking a â€˜food revolutionâ€™ of its own, spreading the word about the quality of school meals with a vigorous social media campaign. Incoming president Nancy Rice spoke of her priorities to improve members’ training and education in the year ahead.
10. People with Passion
We had the opportunity to meet with some wonderful womenâ€”and some men, tooâ€”who spoke with emotion about the reason they were gathered at this conference. As one speaker said â€˜I don’t imagine to many of you here are in it for the money.â€™ No, the school foodservice professionals assembled in Dallas were there because they care about nourishing the children in America’s schools, so that our teachers can nurture their young minds. It was something to witness. Something pretty awesome.
11. (Bonus) The Heinz Ketchup Robot
Had to give a shout out to Robo-Ketchup. The guy’s way funnier than R2D2 and C3PO, and goes great on a (lower sodium) burger on a (whole grain) bun.
Click links below for other SNA Conference coverage
Video: Highlights from the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Convention
Video: Ellie Krieger’s Advice for SNA
Video: White House Food Blogger Offers Tip on The First Lady
Top Ten Things Seen at the School Nutrition Association Conference
Nancy Rice Named 2010-2011 President of SNA
SNA Closing Session:Passing the Torch, Looking to the Future
Passion, Pride and Politics
Fairfax County Named School District of the Year
School Nutrition Pros Descend on Dallas Exhibit Hall
SNA Conference Opens with Guest from The White House
SNA Conference to Focus on Healthy Food Trends in School Meals
National Dairy Council promotes “Fuel Up and Play 60”
Michael Foods touts colorful promo, new products
Pinnacle Foods helps schools to juggle nutrition, fun, and flavor
Advance Food Company reduces sodium in its top-selling CN products