LAS VEGAS — From the city that got the ball rolling with menu nutrition labeling New York City’s school foodservice department is also on the cutting edge of up-and-coming best practices.

What sets the city apart: It doesn’t treat its students as inmates, according to representatives from New York City SchoolFood.

NYC chef, school food director share best practices

Ashley Bentley

From left, Jorge Collazo, executive chef of New York City SchoolFood; Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of the NYC Department of Education, Office of Nutrition and Transportation; Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for the United Fresh Produce Associaiton, and Laurie True, executive director of the California WIC Association, participate in a panel discussion on nutrition.

Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of the city’s department of education, Office of Nutrition and Transportation, and Jorge Collazo, executive chef of SchoolFood, were all over United Fresh Produce Association’s 2010 convention. The two spoke at the conference’s opening breakfast March 21 and also participated in workshops and panels throughout the week.

The best thing the department has done so far, Goldstein said, was use stimulus funding to put elementary-height salad bars in its school and hire two new culinary technicians to improve the salad bar products’ preparation and presentation.

“It’s really probably the best thing we’ve done because the kids are eating it,” Goldstein said.

With the anticipated addition of the Institute of Medicine standards in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, school chefs are going to need more produce merchandising tips than ever from the industry, Collazo said.

The inclusion of IOM standards, which call for increased produce, whole grain and low-fat dairy use in school meals, “is good news for kids, great news for everyone in this room,” Collazo told United Fresh attendees. “And we need a good CNR (Child Nutrition Reauthorization). We can’t have a situation I call ‘no meal left behind.’”

Schools are going to have to buff up their vegetarian offerings this year and in coming years, Collazo said.

“It’s more and more a trend with younger people,” Collazo said.

The department’s No.1 goal now is to triple its student participation in breakfast. The department serves 39 million breakfasts per year, and 117 million lunches, as of this spring. When breakfast is served in the classroom, participation jumps to 90%, Goldstein said.

“Obviously, produce is a big part of breakfast in the classroom,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said the department is also looking into using fresh fruits and vegetables more in fundraisers, replacing candy and other foods used in the past. The department is also looking at replacing candy in vending machines, starting a pilot program at the first of May with healthier vending machines in 20 schools. It is also rolling out a program that allows parents to order apple slices or carrot sticks to hand out to students for birthday parties and other classroom celebrations.

The city also has 18 schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snack program.

“It something they may not always get or have access to in their neighborhoods,” Collazo said. “Kids will eat raw pepper strips, they’ll eat raw broccoli. Sometimes they might want strawberries first, but they’ll eat broccoli.”

New York City SchoolFood serves more than 1,700 schools.