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Kids Loving Healthier Foods At Volusia County Public Schools

Armen Hareyan's picture

At any of the 69 food service operations in the Volusia County Public School system's "School Way Cafe," students can choose from an assortment of baked goods made with or without reduced fat. Based on taste alone, they overwhelmingly prefer the reduced fat items.

The reason is a natural fat replacement ingredient called Z Trim that is made from simple corn fiber and can be used in place of oils, butter and other added ingredients without changing the taste of foods.

Innovating for better tasting, healthier foods in the cafeterias of the 58th largest school district in the country has been a primary objective of Volusia County School Food Service Director Jon Dickl since he was hired by the district in early 2007.

"We all talk about making better choices, but we need to also put better choices in front of our kids, including their favorite items" said Dickl, who received the 2007 Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence Silver Rising Star Award held during the School Nutrition Association's Child Nutrition Industry Conference in Tucson, Arizona. "In our operation, we have the opportunity to put better choices in front of our students about 50,000 times a day, and Z Trim is one way we are doing it," he said.

Since late January, school food service operations in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Florida have begun actively using Z Trim gel in baked goods, dressings and mayo. Many more are testing the product, as are foodservice operations in hospitals.

Z Trim gel, which has no taste and no calories, works similar to fat in food preparation, enabling a safe and palatable reduction of high calorie oil, butter and margarine, even eggs. In Volusia County schools, Z Trim is not being used to cut back on all fat and calories, just the amounts they consider to be excessive and unnecessary, while assuring all the taste remains in tact.

Z Trim underwent a thorough review prior to use at Volusia schools. An evaluation phase was conducted by a certified research chef versus control recipes. New and traditional menu items were prepared for tasting by school officials, including taste-testing. A tasting panel consisting of students was formed as well.

"We began trying Z Trim fat replacement in cakes, cookies and breads. There was no flavor loss and no after taste," Dickl said. "Students and teachers taste-tested the bakery items, all with positive results. Students actually preferred the fat-reduced cookies to the popular branded cookies."

All were impressed with the taste, and the decision was made to proceed, pending analysis by an independent lab. The analysis confirmed that Z Trim is simple, natural dietary fiber. "The results confirmed that it is not so much a question of what we are adding, but what less healthy aspects of the food we are removing," Dickl said.

Chef Costa Magoulas, CEC, CCE, Coordinator of Culinary Operations, reformulated all bakery items made on premises by replacing percentages of the butter, margarine and oil with natural Z Trim gel, enabling the food service operations throughout the district to offer fresh baked cakes, breads, icings, rolls, cookies, brownies, and muffins with reduced calories, more fiber, and all the taste of the full fat alternatives.

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"In all cases, Z Trim added moisture and texture. It actually enhanced the flavor in many instances," Magoulas said. "Now we're in the process of developing a signature ranch dressing, which has already been tested with success," he added. Other salad dressings based on healthier full-taste Z Trim Mayo Spread are next, as are "Z-Trim-ized" sour cream, cheese sauce and mayo.

"Given the full fat taste of the Z Trim mayo and its substantially reduced calorie content, we probably won't have to dedicate shelf space to both a full fat and a light mayo any longer," Dickl said. "The Z Trim Mayo Spread achieves both a full taste profile and better nutrition."

In addition to using Z Trim in baked goods and dressings, Volusia County foodservice personnel are also testing Z Trim in their savory category of menu offerings such as baked ziti, lasagna, chili, etc.

Maryann Lazzaro, registered dietitian and food service director for Plum Borough School District in Pennsylvania, sees Z Trim as a staple ingredient in food formulation going forward. "We believe we've found the best way to satisfy the USDA guidelines limiting 30% of calories from fat and 10% from saturated fat, while also satisfying some very discriminating palates," she said. "The possibilities are endless."

School districts like Volusia County and Plum Borough may just be ushering in the revolution that will enable everyone to have their cake and eat it too. A recent Reuters news story presented the results of a study by Harry Balzer of NPD Group which indicated that, while the percentage of dieting Americans is at a 16-year low, most adults say they would like to lose 20 pounds.

"That's exactly why Z Trim will succeed where diets and miracle cures fail," said Greg Halpern, CEO of Z Trim Holdings, Inc. (Amex: ZTM) "Z Trim is not about dieting or changing your life until you lose the 20 pounds. It's about a more sensible way to prepare all our favorite foods, while reaping sustainable health benefits" he said.

How safe is Z Trim? "Volusia's independent lab analysis affirms all the other findings," said Rick Harris, Vice President of Sales for Z Trim. "It's the food we've been eating since the dawn of our species, because it's essentially water and the fiber of corn," he said. "As part of a large family with many kids, I appreciate the willingness of the school systems to take action to improve kid-favorites on cafeteria menus, and I'm thrilled that Z Trim can be part of that."

Z Trim was developed by the USDA, and participates in the FDA's GRAS voluntary notification program.

The next steps for the widespread transition to healthier favorites include many players, according to Phil Versten, Director of Communications for Z Trim. "The product has been proven safe and effective in lowering fat while maintaining taste. We're talking to school districts, hospital nutritionists, and third party food service contractors across the country," he said. "The future is healthy."

Those sentiments are shared by the authors of the current best seller, "You On a Diet," (Free Press) Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen. On page 90 of their book, under the heading of "Help is on the Way," the two Oprah show regulars tout the benefits of Z Trim, confirming its calorie reduction and taste benefits and noting that it "may eventually change the way we eat."

That change is already underway, according to some school nutritionists. "We've established the dividing line between the old and the new ways," Lazzaro said. "As long as we're introducing more fresh produce into student diets, we can and should take major steps toward improving the nutritional profiles of the traditional favorites as well, with Z Trim. It's quite simply the new way to 'do food' going forward."