I was off to another produce show this past weekend in beautiful Monterey, California. The region around this seaside town – the Salinas Valley – is also known as the “salad bowl” because of the number of vegetables grown here.
The produce show was part of the Produce Marketing Association’s annual foodservice conference where thousands of distributors, restaurants and schools meet up for inspiration.
The conference allowed attendees to chat with growers, food suppliers, see and taste new products and visit with friends in the industry. But perhaps most importantly, the conference inspired new menu ideas.
It’s hard being a chef or a restaurant operator. Whether you have a single restaurant or a chain as large as Olive Garden, you are always on the lookout for new ingredients, recipes and trends.
What I found most inspiring about this year’s conference was the focus on kids and providing healthy and flavorful ideas for them. On Saturday, instead of serving lunch to all attendees, six produce companies partnered with six chefs and created kid-friendly recipes. Attendees in the audience heard an overview of the chefs’ methodology and then the audience sampled each of the recipes and voted for their favorite.
Here were some of the ideas presented:
There are already pioneer programs around the country in various cities with some pretty innovative programs to get kids to eat healthy. I recently read about The Tot Chef Culinary program in Lodi, Ohio – a cooking class for parents and children.
In New York City – check out the Wellness in the Schools nonprofit that was developed by parents to improve fitness, nutrition, and environment in New York City public schools.
I was actually encouraged to learn that these grassroots programs are making a significant difference in changing the way American kids eat. All of this activity around healthy choices is inspiring for me.
Inside our produce industry we long ago recognized that if we can change the eating patterns of consumers early in life – we will have healthier citizens.
And who knows, maybe this is a long term solution for the health care system woes being discussed in Washington, D.C.? There is one thing I am sure of – eating healthy is a personal choice. And thank goodness, we all have so many choices when we eat out.
No matter how old we are.