LANCASTER — From pizza to pineapple, siracha ketchup to yogurt mochas, Thursday’s annual food show for school districts had a wide variety of offerings for school officials and students to sample, evaluate and recommend for school menus in the coming school year.
“Most of it is amazing,” said Yessica Gil, a sixth-grader at Golden Oak Elementary School in Shafter, who found the samples at the show better than her school’s current offerings.
Each year, the Partners in Nutrition Co-operative provides its 37 member school districts the opportunity to see what is available for school nutrition programs. This year, more than 170 vendors packed the H.W. Hunter Pavilion at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds offering samples of their varied wares.
As a co-operative, PINCO allows its member districts — including those in the Antelope Valley and Kern County — to pool their resources when fulfilling their school nutritional needs, said PINCO Chairman Joe Cook, director of food services for the Antelope Valley Union High School District.
“This has been a wonderful food show for us,” he said. “What is great about this is students get to come and be true consumers.”
Some 175 students from member districts visited the event, tasting and evaluating the different foods to provide feedback on what they did or didn’t like, providing information not only on specific items, but also on the types of flavor profiles they prefer, Cook said.
The information is collected to be used as the co-op begins the bid process for food providers for the next school year.
Many of the vendors at this year’s event were offering more “clean” foods, those that are less processed, with few additives, a growing trend in food for schools and elsewhere.
“Kids are asking for it,” said Lori Fawkes, food buyer for Palmdale School District. “You don’t just have to give them chicken nuggets.”
Among the clean food offerings were Fruti Fruit, pineapple or mango provided in a plastic sleeve, with no added sugars. The pineapple one tasted just like biting into a fresh pineapple spear.
Schools are offering the fruit snacks in school stores and cafeterias, as well as for summer school and other activities, often instead of ice cream, representative Michelle Solomon said.
“Students are really big on fruit,” said Gabriela Aguilar, an accountant at Littlerock High School who was seeking products for the school store.
“I’m just excited to bring new things into the store,” she said of her first experience at the food show.
Westside Union School District Director of Child Nutrition Nancy Hemstreet was particularly interested in the vendors that offered ingredients to help school kitchens create meals and make them special, rather than pre-packaged items.
“We’re always looking for things to make it easier and better products for our kids,” she said.
Littlerock High School freshmen Ryley Hunter, Jessica Gee and Erin Hunt made the rounds of the show, favoring tamales and some pasta dishes on offer, as well as slushies.
A yogurt drink, YoGo Cooler from General Mills, was deemed by Hunter to be similar to a Starbucks mocha but not as sweet. She said she would drink it if offered at school, especially for the early-morning zero period.
“I checked out every place that has pizza here,” said Marcos Venegas, a fifth-grader from Zephyr Lane Elementary School in Bakersfield.
Described by his friends as having a “pizza addiction,” Marcos declared the offerings by Ardella’s Pizza the best. The company provided samples of its newest offerings, including a turkey pepperoni version and a type of cheese-stuffed breadstick called a pillow pull-apart.
“It was pretty good. This was really fun,” said fellow Zephyr Lane fifth-grader Gracie Davis, who said she liked the tangerines the best of all the food she sampled.
Whole fruit, but with more variety than the traditional apples and oranges, is the specialty of Alpha Produce, which offered samples of its exotic dragon fruit, star fruit and rambutan, which looks like a spiny creature from science fiction.
“We’re trying to bring new variety to the kids,” Alpha Produce’s Steven Pettigrew said.
The Bakersfield company locally sources its more traditional fruit offerings, but looks afar for the exotic fruits that are finding a foothold in schools.
“They’re so weird, but (students) are excited to try it,” colleague Elena Macia said.
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