Not often do I consider myself more enlightened than a Harvard professor.

Produce is the nutrition answer

Ashley Bentley
Foodservice Focus

But after listening to three days of nutrition information and guidance to the foodservice sector coming from Harvard School of Public Health and Department of Nutrition experts at a recent conference, I felt like they weren’t making a big enough deal about one thing.

It certainly wasn’t the need for lower sodium levels in restaurants and cafeterias, nor was it the need for more whole grains in Americans’ diets.

Both those topics were run into the ground.

The thing I thought they missed was a real solution.

Sure, they talked about different types of salts and their effects, and they talked about processing techniques on grains and how to decipher the best types of whole grains, but those solutions are just quick-fixes for the bigger problem — the composition of the average American meal out.

Changing the composition of the plate to be heavier in fruits and vegetables and what the Harvard people called good carbohydrate sources, and minimizing the use of meats — especially red meat — does all of the things foodservice operators and packaged food suppliers are trying to do right now to lower sodium and add whole grains to meals.

I’m not saying the Harvard people didn’t know this — they mentioned it — they just didn’t mention it enough.

The produce industry was able to make up for that. After the last day of this conference, the Worlds of Healthy Flavors Conference at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., was an entire Saturday dedicated to produce.

The Harvard people took off, but the people who hold power in the foodservice industry — the dozens of operators and chefs in the room — stuck around.

They seemed more excited about the dishes demonstrated and the ideas tossed around during Produce First! than during the first three days.

In Harvard’s defense, its representatives weren’t there to tell the foodservice industry what to do. They were there to present the facts, which they did.

Maybe this is exactly what the culinary institute had in mind — get people revved up about nutrition but keep them glued to their seats for three days, and then let them loose with a kitchen full of produce.

I just hope foodservice operators, in dealing with the challenges of lowering sodium and increasing whole grain use, as well as cutting calories and providing healthier options, remember fresh produce fixes not one, but all of those problems.

E-mail abentley@thepacker.com

What's your take on healthful menu initiatives? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.