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School districts across America come to St. Louis to shop for lunch menu options

ST. LOUIS – St. Louis hosted perhaps the biggest back to school event in the country this week as school districts from coast-to-coast were shopping to fill their lunch menus.

More than 375 vendors were at America’s Center for the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) National Conference trying to woo nutritionists from close to 6,000 school districts with tight budgets and federal nutrition standards to meet.

It was a far cry from the turkey rolls and Salisbury steak of yesteryear.

Robin Richardson from New Albany, Indiana sampled a “build your own” mashed potato bowl. It could very well end up on the menu for her school district’s 12,000 students in the fall.

“(It’s) very good,” she said. “Kids like this…it’s ‘on trend.’”

Dole Food Company had a bicycle-powered blender to show off its school “smoothie” menu.

“Of course, schools still serve pizza, but the pizza served in school today is on a whole grain crust with low-fat cheese and reduced sodium sauce,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner of the SNA. “Schools are really trying to bring in more ethnic food options.”

Campbells Soup offered a “mac ‘n cheese” bar, where kids can build their own nutritious mac ‘n cheese creations.

There were pretzel bars and Dutch waffle bars, with higher nutritional content than you’d find at a carnival or ball game: a lot less salt, sugar, and fat.

Still, the food is so tasty, school workers are choosing to eat in the cafeterias like the students.

“Even our teachers, they eat with our program as well,” said Katie Gegg, a nutritionist for the Mehlville School District in St. Louis County. “Bowls are a big thing right now; creating their own meal, they’re more apt to eat it all. They’re adding their own vegetables on top…so, bowls are a big thing I’ll be bringing into the Mehlville School District this coming school year.”

Maybe the “on trend” meals will carry over to the kitchen table at home.

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