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What’s on the menu?
Food vendors weigh in with new products
WEB food 2
A breakfast of fruit, French toast and sausage is presented during the exhibit. - photo by Jennifer Sami
Cream cheese-filled bagel sticks, fried chicken, veggie burgers, quesadillas — a food lover’s dream menu.

But the real reason behind the food frenzy Jan. 28 was to give Forsyth County students and school staff a chance to sample next year’s potential breakfast and lunch offerings.

The product exhibit allowed food vendors to pitch their latest fare. Just a few products will be selected, and only after a rigorous process focusing on a balance of taste, affordability and nutrition.

“Just because they see it here, doesn’t necessarily mean it will show up on a menu,” said Andrea Perkins, assistant director of food and nutrition services. “It allows us to say, ‘We’d like to have this item, can we get it at a price we can afford.’

“In Forsyth County, we do not select just the cheapest food item, we select the best quality that we can afford.”

The school system’s willingness to expand its menu attracts vendors, said Leslie Fight of the Kellogg Company. But every school system has a budget, she said, and staying within requirements is important to all vendors.

“When you’re dealing with kids, quite honestly, you’ve got three major things you need to do,” Fight said. “It’s got to taste good, it’s got to be nutritious for the children and, of course, it has to be affordable.

“And to hit all three of those criteria could actually be very difficult, so as a manufacturer you’ve got to do your homework.”

Teachers, students and staff received surveys to fill out about the sampled food. The feedback is crucial to the vendors, Fight said.

“We try to listen to what are your needs, what are your wants and we go back to our manufacturing plant ... and say this is what they’re looking for this year, what can we make,” she said.

While the feedback is used by vendors, it’s designed to help the school system make decisions on which product will have the most impact in schools.

But even the most popular foods could be nixed due to price or availability.

Perkins, who handles the county’s menu planning, will review the surveys to see which products rated high. The next step is to find the top items and implement a taste test at a sampling of schools.

“Once we pick a product, we then take that product out to the kids, ” she said.

The determination is then made based on their reviews and a bidding process.

Leah Cunningham, food service technician at Otwell Middle School, said students would enjoy the foods she sampled Wednesday.

“It’s geared toward the kids,” she said, adding the vendors are “trying harder,” to add nutritional value.

Many products are made with whole grains, have no trans fat and are high in fiber to balance the sugar.

“We’re trying to give them exposure to some very healthy things,” Perkins said.

E-mail Jennifer Sami at