Tag Archives: fruit

The Latest on School Nutrition: New USDA Standards

Last August the School Nutrition Association released their “The State of School Nutrition 2011,” which found many school nutritionists and foodservice workers eager to provide healthier menu items at their schools.

Image: Jeltovski/MorgueFile

Unfortunately, many schools cited monetary reasons as to why they were unable to enhance menus.  Other schools just hadn’t made the switch yet.

There’s been a huge emphasis on school nutrition and health since Michelle Obama stepped into her role as first lady.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed in December 2010, the food pyramid was revamped into MyPlate and Mrs. Obama initiated the Let’s Move! campaign, which aims to create a healthier generation of children.

So while some things have just been encouraged or implemented as guides, come July 1, schools will have to start making changes based on the USDA’s new standards.

The new standards were announced on Jan. 25 and stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  Per the USDA’s website, the new rules are to:

  • Offer fruits and vegetables to students daily

    Image: margey6652/Morguefile

  • Increase offering of whole grain-rich foods
  • Provide only fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Limit calories based on age so students receive their appropriate portion size
  • Reduce amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium

Schools must begin making changes at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, but will have three year period to implement all revisions.

While some critics say more can be done for school nutrition, many are pleased, including Sarah Wu, former anonymous blogger for her blog Fed Up with Lunch (also known as Mrs. Q, read our October interview with her here).

“I think it’s really great, actually,” she said. “I’m pretty pleased with them and it’s definitely a good step in the right direction.  There’s more we can do, but I’m totally happy.”

Image: Fed Up with Lunch

One of Wu’s biggest concerns goes back to the reason why many schools hadn’t made the move to healthier items in the first place: money.

“I think I’m concerned about how districts will make it work with the money they have,” she said.

According to the USDA, the price of school menus will increase by six cents—which is the first big increase in the last 30 years.

To compensate, the USDA will increase funding to cover the six cents.  However, Wu pointed out despite the increased funding, she mentioned it’s been said the cost for the new standards may actually be 11 cents per meal.  If that is the end result, the five cent difference could be challenging for schools.

“There are ways instead of having to absorb those losses,” Wu said, and wonders if schools could get in touch with local non-profits, foundations, have fundraisers, etc.

“There have to be ways people can engage and help.”

Image: imelenchon/MorgueFile

So cost aside, Wu and many others are pleased with these new standards.

In the USDA’s press release, they also had other improvements they would like to make such as to have nutritional standards apply to all ways students get food and beverage (i.e. vending), have “common-sense pricing standards for schools” and provide training and technical assistance to help schools comply with the new standards.

To view more information about the new guidelines, including links to sample menus and more, visit the USDA’s website.

How do you feel about the USDA’s new standards? Schools, how will this impact you directly?

 

Benefits of Owning a Slicer

When it comes to important kitchen equipment, the slicer ranks pretty high on the list.  From salad bar to pizza toppings, the slicer really takes on a lot when it comes to back of the house duties.  By having a slicer at your restaurant, it can extremely reduce labor costs while providing uniform results.

One of the great slicers out there is the Nemco Easy Slicer. (And just to give you a heads up, we currently have a promotion running until the end of October.  With every purchase of a Nemco Easy Slicer comes a free replacement blade kit.)

The Nemco Easy Slicer has twin, razor sharp 51/2” curved stainless steel blades, an exclusive visual thickness gauge and comes in your choice of an adjustable (1/16” to 1/2”) or fixed blade set (1/8”, 3/16” or 1/4”).

The slicer easily takes on onions, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more.  And best of all, it cuts uniform slices in seconds, so you and your customers can count on consistency.

Image from Nemco website

What sets this slicer aside from others is the fact that anyone can use it.  According to OSHA regulations, no one under the age of 18 can use a power slicer.  As this slicer isn’t a powered prep item, it is great for restaurants that employ high school students.  Also, minimal training is required making it easy to use.

There are always tough aspects to owning restaurant equipment and cleaning is one of the tougher tasks for slicers.  Nemco was sure to keep that in mind when they built the Easy Slicer and specifically designed it to disassemble easily.  This makes the cleaning process much, much easier.

So when it comes down to some of the perks, here’s what you can count on with Nemco’s Easy Slicer:

  • Labor savings
  • Consistent cut size
  • Portion control
  • Versatility and simplicity
  • Quick, operator-adjustable thickness
  • Perfect for all employees as it’s a non-powered piece of equipment
  • Cleans easily

Nemco has put together this information-packed video (click here) which goes into further detail and provides tutorials for slicing, cleaning and more.  And if you’re thinking about purchasing this slicer, you can click here for the information on Central’s website.

10 Ways to Make an Extraordinary and Memorable Table Setting

One of the most important yet undervalued components of the dining experience is the table.  At this point, you know table setting basics from silverware placement to having the classic white linen neatly draped over.  But from restaurants to catered events,  there is always a way to take it a step further to enhance your customer’s experience. After all, taking some extra time to liven up the setting could bring in more money somewhere along the line.

This week we came up with a few ideas along with Michael Williams (Product Consultant, Central Restaurant Products), Laura Bedilion (Category Manager, Central Restaurant Products) and Stacy Blanton (Director of Marketing and Communications, IUPUI Food Service) to create 10 ways to make your table setting go above and beyond your guest’s expectations.

  1. Color: It’s scary, but if you know your guests and your atmosphere, which you do, you can play with color to find one that best represents your establishment or catered event.  This applies to more than the table cloth; it applies to napkins as well.  During Williams’ catering days, he used multiple colors for napkins to liven his setting.  For example, in the fall he used a burnt orange and a rich brown.
  2. Upgrade your Tableware: If you have fairly new dinnerware, skip this number. But if your plates are scratched, your glasses are murky or your knives are dull, Bedilion recommends updating.  Today there are a variety of shapes, colors and styles of plates—including those that don’t scratch or break easily. Also, when upgrading, you can look at your current dinnerware set to decide if you need more durability.  Same thing goes with drinkware and flatware.
  3. Napkins: Sure, you can roll your silverware in a napkin—but why not take some extra time to enhance the experience by folding the napkin in a way your guests have never seen?  Find one and try it.  It could become a signature part of your establishment.
  4. Go Natural: Everyone has seen gemstones in centerpieces; why not use something natural instead? Blanton recommends using natural items for centerpieces and details such as leafy greens instead of greenery, pine cones and rocks instead of clear gems.
  5. Candle Lamps: For low-lighted settings, a large or bright lamp can be distracting or in your customers way—especially if they can’t cover or move the light. Bedilion suggests candle lamps, which create just the right amount of light and are available in a variety of styles.   They are also available in LED that simulates traditional candlelight if you’re staying away from fire.
  6. Make it Personal: If you run a busy establishment and are constantly turning tables, your server will make the experience personal. But for a catered event, many times the most interaction between the wait staff and guests is filling drinks and clearing plates.  Blanton suggests taking a few extra minutes to create individual menu cards for a plated meal.  It can make a difference.
  7. Fruit: Fresh fruit can be used in many ways other than for consumption. Williams would slice fresh fruit into water pitchers to liven the setting which would also infuse the water with flavor.  Some of his most commonly used fruits were blueberries, honeydew and cucumbers.
  8. Height:  This is one of the very simple yet excellent ways to make a food presentation pop.  Instead of laying everything flat, Blanton says to use a variety of heights (especially on a buffet, but it’s possible with a table too).  There are many different ways to display food with height from risers to tiered displays.  Williams adds that height can even be added with cardboard boxes and linen.
  9. Condiment Display: Instead of throwing the ketchup and mustard on the far end of the table with the sugar and sweetener packets crammed into a small square container, find a condiment holder or organizer to conveniently hold all items for your guests.  There are even holders that include a coil for table numbers or menu items, such as daily specials.
  10. Ice sculptures: Okay, so this one may be taking it a bit further than just creatively folding a napkin or using bold red linens. However; you may find them to be the wow factor you’ve been searching for to make an event extremely memorable.  Check out these ice sculpture molds.

Let us know ways you have changed your table setting to enhance the experience for your guests in our comment section!

Confectionary Clash: Pies vs. Cupcakes

Cupcakes; Image from MorgueFileWhat could be better than a battle royal of your favorite sweets?  Not much.  However, could one tasty treat truly push the other out of the lime light and into oblivion (as some writers around the web might hope)?  Probably not too likely.

You may then be asking, “Why do so many people care about cupcakes and pies?!”  With articles popping up everywhere from blogs to the Wall Street Journal , the answer is that everyone has their opinion on what is best.  And unlike many other trendy food items, cupcakes and pie are commonplace in most people’s everyday lives (especially in childhood).

There are also businesses involved in the confectionary clash.   Shops and companies dedicated to selling baked goods have become huge money-makers in recent years due to such a great demand and a usually low start-up cost.  We spoke to the experts, Michael D. Wickersham of Wick’s Pies, Inc.  and Courtney Gorman of Sweet Lucinda’s , to get their thoughts on what makes theirs the best goodie in this melee.

Wickersham “was born in the Pie business.”  His father started the now famous Wick’s Pies in Winchester, Indiana, from the restaurants he owned and operated.  He started making pies because he couldn’t find one he felt was good enough for his customers.  The business started with 20 pies a day and is now up to about 10,000 per day.

Gorman’s baking also grew from her roots. She says, “Most of my recipes originate from my mom (Sweet Lucinda) or grandmother.”  Gorman adds, “When I was a very little girl my mom would bake for us all the time…my birthday parties were the best!”  These birthday delicacies and comforting memories like it are what inspired her to start her own bakery.

Pie; Image from MorgueFileBut it’s not all just about family recipes and good memories.  Both Wickersham and Gorman have their thoughts on what makes their sweet delights the clear front runner.

Wickersham’s biggest line of defense for the pie is their health benefits. “Many pies are made with fresh fruit.  Some pies are made with vegetables, some with milk, some with chocolate, and some with nuts.  Pies offer protein, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains.  Come to think of it a slice of pie looks like a pyramid and could be used as a dietary pyramid,” he said.  He goes on to add that while cupcakes may be trendy, “Pie is America’s Dessert.”

Gorman feels that cupcakes are big because, “They are individual, personal cakes that make everyone feel special.  They are great for events and parties because they require no work…people can grab and go.  You can get a smattering of flavors instead of just one in a cake.”  She continues saying, “And sweets seem to be a treat that people are willing to still invest in.”

So which one is best?  Do trends beat out classics?  Is it better to share or have it all to yourself?  There’s no better way to decide then to put the two rivals head to head.

1. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/15/business/la-fi-pie-20110115
2. http://www.slate.com/id/2227216/ 3.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703960804576120453548957890.html 4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_foods

So, who is the real winner?  It could be both.  More accurately, it could be a combination of the two.  Gorman has actually brought the best of both worlds together at Sweet Lucinda’s with a pie cupcake.

But really if you want to know if it’s one or the other, only you can decide.  And what’s the best way to make a food related decision?  Taste test them both at home!

Try this recipe for a Chocolate Carmel Cream Pie  and cut it perfectly with this pie cutter  from Central or this one for the Ultimate Jumbo Filled Chocolate Cupcakes using a jumbo cupcake pan from Central.

**Pie Trivia – According to Wickersham, The Bean Pie (made of navy beans) was the Boxing Champ, Muhammad Ali’s favorite pie.

**Cupcake Trivia – Although often thought of as a trend, the first mention of cupcakes was actually in 1796 in “American Cookery” by Amelia Simms.  

Post your thoughts below on the results and which yummy dessert is your favorite!